SAN DIEGO (NEWS 8) – A Navy petty officer who drove drunk, lost control of his pickup and plummeted off the Coronado bridge into Chicano Park, killing four people, was convicted Wednesday of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
Richard Anthony Sepolio, 27, was also found guilty of driving under the influence causing injury. He was acquitted of four counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, one count of driving over the legal alcohol limit and causing injury, and seven counts of reckless driving.
Sepolio faces up to 18 years in prison, with sentencing scheduled for April 2.
Judge remands Richard Sepolio back into custody until sentencing.
The charges stemmed from the Oct. 15, 2016, crash that killed Annamarie Contreras, 50, and Cruz Contreras, 52, a married couple from Chandler, Arizona; and Hacienda Heights residents Andre Banks, 49, and Francine Jiminez, 46. Seven other people were seriously injured.
Deputy District Attorney Cally Bright told the panel in closing arguments that Sepolio chose "to drive irritated, impaired and impatient." Prosecutors argue that in addition to having drinks prior to getting behind the wheel, Sepolio was arguing with his girlfriend over the phone just moments before losing control of his truck on the bridge.
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Earlier in the trial, Sepolio took the stand in his own defense. He told the jury the way he drove the day of the accident is the same way he drives any other day. Sepolio also testified that he had a cider beer with brunch that day and a glass of wine, but he says he was not drunk.
He also told the jury he was not on the phone at the time of the crash saying the phone call with his now wife had ended before he got to the exit for the bridge. Sepolio also hinted that his truck had been having some steering problems.
Sepolio says he was trying to pass someone on the ramp who was in the fast lane and that when that driver sped up, he also sped up and the next thing he remembers is his truck hitting the right barrier. He also said remembers looking down toward the ground and then his truck rolling over.
Bright said outside the courtroom that nothing will bring back the family members that were killed, but as far as the punishment Sepolio will receive for his actions that day, involving the speed at which he drove and how he testified, will all be things that the judge will have to consider in determining Sepolio’s fate.
Deputy District Attorney Cally Bright speaks outside the courtroom Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019.
Whether Sepolio was intoxicated was a point of contention during the trial, particularly with one blood sample not tested for more than a year after the crash, according to Defense Attorney Paul Pfingst.
Pfingst said outside the courtroom that he was disappointed that Sepolio was convicted of DUI causing injury, despite jurors finding that he was driving below the legal limit. However, he said that no matter how the verdicts played out, the events were tragic for people on both sides.
“My client is a very good, decent, young man who was not driving over the legal limit, and had a traffic accident which has led to this. He will pay a heavy price for that, as will his family," Pfingst said.
Defense Attorney Paul Pfingst speaks outside the courtroom Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019.
While the jury did not find Sepolio guilty of the greatest charge he faced -- gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated -- jurors did not disagree that Sepolio was under the influence.
Bright said she believed Sepolio was grossly negligent due to driving while under the influence and distracted, but supported the jury's findings, which included its rejection of the charge that Sepolio was intoxicated above the legal blood alcohol limit.
Juror Matthew Miller told reporters the panel had a very difficult decision to come to, and they felt alcohol played a part in the crash and had “issues with the way the police handled some of the evidence.”
Timothy Contreras, nephew of Annamarie and Cruz Contreras traveled from Mesa, Arizona to hear the verdict. He spoke to reporters outside the courtroom while holding a picture of his aunt and uncle.
Timothy Contreras speaks to reporters outside the courtroom Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019.
“They were really nice people who fostered a lot of children and they meant a lot to me and my family and will be greatly missed.” Contreras said.
After the verdict was read the judge remanded Sepolio back into custody until sentencing.