Navy man pleads not guilty in deadly San Diego vehicle crash

October 19, 2016 7:12 PM EDT

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(Reuters) - A U.S. Navy serviceman pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to charges alleging he drove his pickup truck while drunk off a ramp leading to San Diego's Coronado Bridge, killing four people and injuring others.

Richard Sepolio, 24, is facing six felony counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and other drunk driving-related charges, San Diego County District Attorney's Office spokeswoman Tanya Sierra said in an email.

Sepolio entered his plea from his hospital room at the UC San Diego Medical Center, where he is recovering from injuries suffered during the crash, which occurred on Saturday afternoon.

Sepolio's attorney, Paul Pfingst, said the crash was caused by another car, that section of the bridge was dangerous, and that his client's blood alcohol level has not been verified.

"He was avoiding another car that drove him into the side of the bridge," Pfingst said in a telephone interview.

Police said the truck was traveling northbound on Interstate 5 when Sepolio lost control while exiting the freeway and crashed into a guardrail, sending the vehicle plummeting onto a motorcycle rally and festival in a park below.

The four victims were in a vendor's booth when the truck plunged off the bridge's ramp and fell 60 feet (18 m) into Chicano Park, according to police and local media.

In addition to the four fatalities, nine people, including Sepolio, were injured. A spokeswoman for the hospital declined on Wednesday to disclose any information about Sepolio's current condition.

Sepolio, a third-class petty officer, is stationed with a helicopter sea combat squadron at Naval Air Station North Island, Navy Lieutenant Leslie Hubbell said in an email on Wednesday. He enlisted in September 2014 and previously worked as an aviation electronics technician, she said.

The air station, one of several large naval installations in the Southern California city, lies across San Diego Bay from the downtown. It is about 4 miles (6.4 km) from the crash site.

If convicted on all charges, Sepolio faces 23 years and eight months in prison, Sierra said.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Matthew Lewis)



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