Hit-and-run driver accelerated onto LA boardwalk

By Tami Abdollah

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Aug. 4 2013 7:02 p.m. MDT

A street along the Venice, Calif., beach boardwalk, Sunday Aug. 4, 2013, near where a Saturday incident involving a driver who accelerated through a crowd of beachgoers, hitting one person after another as bystanders tried desperately to get out of the way. The hit-and-run killed an Italian woman on her honeymoon and hurt 11 others. The orange cones at right mark where the drivers rampage began.

Tami Abdollah, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — The driver parked outside a hotel and surveyed the leisurely summer scene at the Venice Beach boardwalk: Hundreds of people were sitting at cafes, walking along the seashore or shopping at vendors selling jewelry or art.

Then, according to surveillance video, the man got into a large black car, steered around a vehicle barrier and accelerated mercilessly through the crowd, hitting one person after another as bystanders tried desperately to get out of the way.

Saturday's hit-and-run killed an Italian woman on her honeymoon and hurt 11 others who only a moment earlier had been enjoying an afternoon near the beach at the height of vacation season.

A couple of hours later, authorities arrested a man on suspicion of murder after he walked into a police station in neighboring Santa Monica and said he was involved.

Nathan Louis Campbell, 38, of Los Angeles, remained jailed Sunday on $1 million bail.

Police declined to discuss a motive but Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese said there was no indication that the attack was a terrorist act or that anyone else was involved.

By the time it was over, the driver had covered about a quarter of a mile along the boardwalk before fleeing. The entire incident was over in minutes.

Mustafa Balci, 44, and his wife Yesim Balci, 48, were sitting in lawn chairs at their booth on Saturday, as they had daily for the last three years when they saw a large black sedan roaring directly toward them from a side street.

Three people were knocked to the ground and within seconds the car was at their booth. It swerved left, sideswiping a picnic table holding their wares — the traditional Turkish blue glassware of the eye to ward off the evil eye, and wall hangings of Jesus and Virgin Mary tapestries.

The car hit three customers looking at the items, and slammed into Mustafa Balci's knees pushing him backward, breaking a table, smashing a mirror and scattering everything. Yesim Balci was flung 8 feet, tumbling backward and landing facedown.

"I couldn't see her when I woke up, I looked up and was like where is she? I yelled, 'Are you around? Are you alive?' She yelled back, 'I'm alive,'" Mustafa Balci said. "I thought both of us would be dead."

Balci was helped up by strangers who took him over to his wife. He lied down next to her as paramedics responded to the scene. The couple were taken along with three others to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, treated for minor injuries and released. Yesim Balci had her ankle taped up, blood seeping through the back, and bruises all over her body; she could no longer raise her left arm.

On Sunday, the boardwalk featured the typical summer crowd, people on roller blades, beach cruisers, performers and regular vendors. The Balcis were also back at their booth to take stock of their losses.

A broken picnic table was behind them, and a box of their damaged wares in front of them. They estimated that 90 percent of their goods were broken, at a loss of $6,000 for handmade goods whose raw materials were shipped from Turkey. They don't have any health insurance and aren't sure how they will make up the losses.

"We're not here to work or sell anything, we're here for damage control, to take our stuff and go home and rest," Mustafa Balci said.

The evening melee injured another vendor next to them who did fortune telling, as well as one of the vendor's customers, Balci said.

People were "stumbling around, blood dripping down their legs, looking confused not knowing what had happened, people screaming," said Louisa Hodge, who described "blocks and blocks of people just strewn across the sidewalk."

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