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Vendors recount weekend hit-and-run at Los Angeles boardwalk that left 1 dead, 11 injured

One minute, Mustafa Balci was sitting in a lawn chair next to his wife at their booth on the Venice Beach boardwalk, enjoying the leisurely summer scene.

The next minute, the couple was lying on the ground along with the other injured after a man accelerated his large black car through a crowd, hitting one person after another as people 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 a late afternoon near the beach at the height of vacation season.

Balci's booth was struck within seconds of the start of the rampage. The car swerved left, sideswiping a picnic table holding the couple's 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 Balci's knees pushing him backward, breaking a table, smashing a mirror and scattering everything. His wife, Yesim Balci, was flung 8 feet, tumbling backward and landing facedown.

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

"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, 44, was helped up by strangers who took him over to his wife. The couple were taken along with three others to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, treated for minor injuries and released.

Yesim Balci, 48, had her ankle taped up, blood seeping through the back, and bruises all over her body. On Sunday, she couldn't raise her left arm.

Authorities arrested a man on suspicion of murder several hours after the hit-and-run. Nathan Louis Campbell, 38, of Los Angeles walked into a police station in neighboring Santa Monica and said he was involved. He 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.

The driver first parked outside a hotel and surveyed the 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 drove through the crowd.

The driver knocked over two mannequins and an ATM and started hitting people, swerving from side to side and often running straight into victims. Video showed the car struck at least three vendors — a fortune teller, a couple selling jewelry and a woman who does tattooing.

Witnesses said the car was traveling at about 35 to 40 mph along the boardwalk.

The driver eventually turned up a side street and headed away from the ocean. The car was later found abandoned less than two miles away, police 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."

The Italian woman was identified as Alice Gruppioni, 32. Her family in Bologna told the Italian news agency LaPresse that she had been on her honeymoon after a July 20 wedding.

Gruppioni worked as a manager for the family business Sira group, which makes radiators. Her father, Valerio Gruppioni, runs the company and was formerly president of the Bologna soccer team, according to LaPresse.

The family declined to speak to The Associated Press on Sunday.

Another person was critically injured. Two others were taken to hospitals in serious condition. Eight suffered less serious injuries, police said.

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.

___

Associated Press Writer Colleen Barry in Milan contributed to this report.

Tami Abdollah can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/latams

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