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Navy officer guilty of manslaughter in San Diego bridge plunge that killed 4

Prosecutors said the officer had been drinking and was arguing with his girlfriend, now his wife, by cellphone when his pickup fell off a bridge into a festival below.
Image: Richard Sepolio
Richard Sepolio stands in court after Judge Charles G. Rogers released the jury after delivering a guilty verdict in San Diego on Feb. 13, 2019.Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune via AP

SAN DIEGO — A Navy petty officer whose car plunged off a soaring bridge in San Diego and killed four people below was convicted Wednesday of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.

A jury also found Richard Sepolio, 27, guilty of driving under the influence causing injury but acquitted him of the more serious charges of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. He also was acquitted of reckless driving and driving over the legal alcohol limit causing injury.

Sepolio could be sentenced to up to 18 years in prison.

"This was a great outcome on this case," prosecutor Cally Bright said out of court. But Bright added: "Nothing will bring back the family members lost that day."

Prosecutors said Sepolio had been drinking on Oct. 15, 2016, and was arguing with his girlfriend — now his wife — by cellphone when he tried to speed past another car on the San Diego-Coronado Bridge. He lost control of his pickup truck, which crashed through a concrete barrier and plunged 60 feet off the span into a crowd celebrating a motorcycle rally and festival at Chicano Park. The truck crushed vendor booths where people were standing.

Four people died, and seven were hurt.

Sepolio's pickup was recorded doing 81 mph going onto the bridge, which stretches across San Diego Bay and links San Diego to the Navy town of Coronado, where Sepolio was an aviation electronics technician.

The prosecution told jurors that Sepolio chose "to drive irritated, impaired and impatient."

At trial, Sepolio testified that he'd had two drinks earlier in the day but wasn't drunk and wasn't on the cellphone call at the time of the crash.

The defense and prosecution disagreed on whether several blood and breath tests given to Sepolio indicated he was impaired.

Defense attorney Paul Pfingst said outside court that he was disappointed that Sepolio was convicted of DUI even though jurors didn't find that he was driving with a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit, KFMB-TV reported.

"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.

Jurors reached a verdict on Monday. But the judge held off on reading the verdict until Wednesday following a Tuesday court holiday so that family and friends of Sepolio and the victims — some from out of state — could attend the hearing.

Sepolio's wife, their baby and his parents from Texas attended the nearly monthlong trial. Pfingst said Sepolio asked him to tell his family to "stay strong," the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.