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Lawyers give arguments in trial of Navy technician who drove off bridge, killing four below

Police stand near the pickup truck that landed at Chicano Park after it flew off a ramp to the San Diego Coronado Bridge in San Diego on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016. Four people were killed and nine were injured on Saturday after an out-of-control pickup truck plunged off the San Diego-Coronado Bridge and plowed into crowd gathered at a festival below, authorities said.

HAYNE PALMOUR IV/THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE VIA AP

By PAULINE REPARD | The San Diego Union-Tribune | Published: January 31, 2019

SAN DIEGO (Tribune News Service) — A jury will soon consider evidence in the case of a Navy technician accused of being under the influence of alcohol when his pickup flew off the San Diego-Coronado Bridge and landed on four people in Chicano Park, killing them.

On Wednesday, San Diego Superior Court Judge Charles Rogers told a panel of six women and six men that they would likely begin deliberations on Thursday and resume on Monday if necessary.

Attorneys gave their closing arguments, with a prosecutor summing up her case that Richard Sepolio was grossly negligent when he drove at high speed onto the bridge and tried to pass another car on Oct. 15, 2016.

Sepolio was a Navy aviation technician stationed at North Island in Coronado at the time of the incident.

Sepolio lost control of his truck, which plummeted about 40 feet down to the park where 3,000 people had gathered for a motorcycle rally. Seven men and women were seriously injured in addition to the four killed.

Defense attorney Paul Pfingst disputed that his client had been driving under the influence after drinking a hard cider and glass of wine with lunch before the 3:30 p.m. crash.

Pfingst told jurors that Sepolio passed four breath and blood tests taken within hours of the crash, with results showing his blood-alcohol level was under the .08 percent at which a driver in California is presumed impaired.

Sepolio faces 13 charges, including four counts of gross vehicular manslaughter with intoxication, driving under the influence and reckless driving. He could be sentenced to more than 23 years in state prison if convicted of the most serious charges.

Deputy District Attorney Cally Bright said Sepolio, 27, a Navy petty officer and aviation technician, was more than simply careless when he tried to pass a car on his left by going more than 80 mph on a curve onto the bridge.

Bright said one blood test result showed Sepolio likely had a blood-alcohol level of .08 percent when calculated backward to the time of the crash.

She described him as impatient and impaired as well as irritated by an argument he’d had on the phone with his girlfriend seconds before the crash.

When witnesses in the park hauled a badly injured Sepolio out of his truck, he was clutching his cellphone. He testified that he had blacked out, but regained consciousness in the truck, found the phone and picked it up before being rescued.

The crash caused fatal injuries to Andre Banks, 49, and his wife, Francine Jimenez, 46, of Hacienda Heights and Cruz Contreras, 52, and his wife, Annamarie Contreras, 50, of Chandler, Ariz.

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