Sailor who killed four in DUI accident pleads not guilty from hospital

Navy Sailor Richard Sepolio lays on the ground after being pulled from his vehicle that plunged off a bridge into Chicano Park, killing four. (Facebook)

A Navy man in bandages and neck brace sat in a hospital wheelchair Wednesday as he pleaded not to charges that he was driving under the influence when his pickup flew off the San Diego-Coronado Bridge and killed four people at Chicano Park on Saturday.

A Superior Court judge, attorneys, a court reporter, bailiffs and two news reporters crowded near Richard at a UC San Diego Medical Center conference room as he was arraigned on four counts of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and two other DUI-related charges.

Prosecutor Cally Bright said had a .08 percent blood-alcohol level half an hour after the crash. That is the legal limit for drivers in California.

and a friend had taken an Uber ride-sharing lift to a restaurant, where they drank a bottle of wine and cocktails before going back to her place, Bright said.

When started to drive away an hour later, to head for his residence in Coronado, his friend urged him not to drive because he’d been drinking, Bright said.

attorney, Paul Pfingst, said his client was not under the influence at the time, and that his pickup was cut off by another vehicle, causing him to swerve and go off the side of the bridge.

Pfingst also said the bridge was badly designed to allow such incidents.

Superior Court Judge Eugenia Eyherabide set bail at $2 million. Bright said he faces up to 23 years, eight months in prison if convicted of all charges.

, 24, is a Navy aviation technician stationed at North Island in Coronado. He lost control of his pickup on transition lanes from northbound Interstate 5 onto the bridge about 3:45 p.m. Saturday.

The pickup crashed through a barrier wall next to traffic lanes, soared over a bandstand in the park packed with about 3,000 bikers and local residents, and landed on top of four people.

Killed were Cruz Contreras, 52, and his wife, Annamarie Contreras, 50, of Chandler, Ariz.., and Andre Banks, 49, and his wife, Francine Jimenez, 46, of Hacienda Heights in the Los Angeles area.

and three other people were hospitalized with major injuries, Bright said during the hospital hearing. Authorities said five other people were treated for lesser injuries.

Related: Video shows Sailor never let go of cellphone after driving off bridge, killing four in DUI crash

Many of the visitors watched in horror as the pickup hurtled off the bridge. Some people had time to run from its path and push others out of the way.

Pfingst said suffered a fractured neck, broken left hand, broken ribs and other injuries.

He sat silently through the 10-minute hearing, except to softly agree that his preliminary hearing could be set on Jan. 25. He wore a green hospital gown over lightweight blue pants.

Pfingst said was on pain medication, but was able to understand the proceedings.

The defense attorney said a number of blood-alcohol tests conducted on showed results ranging from .04 to .08 or .09 percent. He said he has not yet received California Highway Patrolinvestigation reports or the lab reports.

was in training to test for acceptance into the Navy SEAL elite special operations team and has no prior criminal record, Pfingst said.

Court records in Texas show he was arrested at age 19 on suspicion of possessing or delivering drug paraphernalia. No record was found on the outcome of the case.


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