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Man charged with murder in car rampage on Venice Beach boardwalk

By Dan Whitcomb and Dana Feldman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A man accused of plowing his car through crowds at the Venice Beach boardwalk in Los Angeles, killing an Italian woman on her honeymoon and injuring 16 other people, was charged on Tuesday with murder and multiple counts of assault with a deadly weapon.

Nathan Louis Campbell, who was also charged with 17 counts of felony hit-and-run, pleaded not guilty during a brief arraignment hearing in Los Angeles Superior Court, appearing pale and feeble in blue jail garb and shackles.

"He is quite distraught. He is very saddened that an individual has lost their life," Campbell's defense attorney, Philip Dube, told reporters outside court. "He does not believe that he is a homicidal person, he does not set out in life to injure or to harm people, and he is profoundly saddened by this."

Dube described his 38-year-old client as "fragile, frail and withdrawn" but said he did not believe he was mentally incompetent.

Prosecutors say Campbell was at the wheel of his dark blue 2008 Dodge Avenger as it sped down the packed ocean front walk in Venice Beach shortly before 6 p.m. on Saturday, striking and killing 32-year-old Italian tourist Alice Gruppioni.

Witnesses have said it appeared the driver was aiming for pedestrians along the boardwalk, a major Los Angeles tourist attraction known for its patchwork of street vendors, souvenir shops, restaurants and sporting areas in one of the city's quirkiest neighborhoods.

'GRIEF AND SORROW'

Security footage aired on ABC News shows the car smashing into a crowd of people, backing up and then driving into another throng. Police initially listed 11 people as wounded, but in charging Campbell, prosecutors said 16 people were struck by the car and suffered some form of injury.

Gruppioni, who was married two weeks ago, died of blunt force injuries to the head and neck, according to the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office.

Her new husband, Christian Casadei, suffered less serious injuries and according to family members was returning to Italy with her body on Tuesday to make funeral arrangements.

"No words can adequately express the grief and sorrow we are feeling as we mourn the loss of a beautiful person, family member and young bride. Thank you all for your concerns as we begin to search for answers," the family said in a statement.

Campbell was taken into custody on Saturday after abandoning his car blocks from the scene and walking to a police station in the adjacent community of Santa Monica.

On Tuesday, Campbell was ordered held on $1.48 million bail by a judge who ordered him to return in September for a pre-trial hearing.

Authorities have disclosed little about what might have motivated the rampage at a top Southern California tourist spot. A Los Angeles Police Department spokesman has said that Campbell made incriminating statements to officers in Santa Monica.

Dube, a public defender, said his client was originally from Georgia but had lived in Colorado and California, working as a car mechanic, at restaurants and in the construction industry. He said Campbell's parents were deceased and that he had no siblings.

Some 100 people gathered on the boardwalk on Monday night in a moment of silence for Gruppioni and the injured.

A Los Angeles City Council member has asked fire and law enforcement agencies to study placing permanent concrete barricades in place to restrict vehicle access to the boardwalk.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb and Dana Feldman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Cynthia Osterman, David Gregorio and Lisa Shumaker)

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