Man convicted of killing Chandler couple released early - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Man convicted of killing Chandler couple released early

November 23rd, 2020 SanTan Sun News
Man convicted of killing Chandler couple released early

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

MaryAnn and Mia Contreras held up a picture of their dead parents as they stood before the lectern of a San Diego courtroom last year.

The sisters were pleading for a judge to give the maximum prison sentence to Richard Sepolio, a 29-year-old Navy crew member convicted of killing four people and injuring seven others on Oct. 15, 2016.

A jury convicted Sepolio last February of recklessly plunging his pickup truck off a bridge and into a crowd of spectators at a nearby motorcycle rally.

Amidst the horde of 3,000 attendees were Cruz Contreras, 52, and his wife AnnaMarie, 50, who had traveled from their home in Chandler to attend the San Diego event.

Sepolio’s truck fell 60 feet and crushed a vendor’s booth positioned near the bridge. A scene of carnage and horror then played out as bystanders scrambled to lift the wrecked vehicle off of people who had been standing underneath the booth’s tent.

Contreras and his wife were among the four victims killed -– which also included two Los Angeles residents — leaving behind three daughters and two grandchildren.

The Contreras daughters had expected Sepolio to spend the next several years in prison, hoping the emotional toll of their parents’ death would sway officials to keep the defendant behind bars for as long as possible.

“I have to parent myself because both of my parents were taken by someone so careless,” Mia Contreras said last year during Sepolio’s sentencing hearing.

But the Contreras family was disappointed to discover that Sepolio is already out of prison.

On Nov. 6, he was released early from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation after serving nearly three years of his 10-year sentence, which included the time he served in jail while awaiting trial.

The pandemic prompted the state to release some inmates earlier in order to free up crowded cells and avoid an outbreak of the virus. In addition to the health crisis, the CDCR cited Sepolio’s “good behavior” as cause for releasing him earlier than scheduled.

Sepolio’s release sparked the outrage of local prosecutors, who feel blindsided by the state’s decision and dispute its justification.

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan described Sepolio’s release as a “miscarriage of justice” in a letter sent to California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“This very early release is unconscionable,” Stephan wrote. “It is re-victimizing the family and friends of the four people killed and seven injured who have been devastated by their loss and continue to deal with the financial, emotional, mental and physical trauma caused by the defendant.”

Stephan further cited Sepolio’s actions on the day of the accident as reasons to cancel his early release, claiming the defendant continues to “minimize” his role in causing the crash.

According to court testimony, Sepolio admitted to consuming two alcoholic beverages shortly before the crash and was accelerating at speeds exceeding 80 mph at the moment he lost control of his truck.

Sepolio had been arguing with his girlfriend over the phone while attempting to pass another motorist along the San Diego-Coronado Bridge. He lost control of his truck and swerved too far left, lunging the vehicle over the bridge’s barrier wall and into the nearby park.

Though the jury convicted Sepolio of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, it concluded his level of intoxication was not higher than California’s legal limit for driving.

At his sentencing hearing, Sepolio, dressed in his Navy uniform, apologized to the families of his victims for any pain he had caused them. He was denied probation and given the maximum possible sentence of nine years and eight months.

The Contreras daughters already felt nine years was not a long enough sentence and now they’re more outraged to see Sepolio serve less than half that time.

“How can a healthy 29-year-old inmate who is not at high risk for COVID-19 be released early and not even serve a third of his sentence” MaryAnn Contreras wrote in a statement.

She said her family was only notified of Sepolio’s release a few days before he got out — not affording them much time to try to appeal to Gov. Newsom or the CDCR.

“While (Sepolio) gets to have another Thanksgiving with his family, we now continue to have two empty seats surrounding our kitchen table,” Contreras added.

Her parents had been together for 36 years and were high school sweethearts. After their deaths, friends of Cruz and AnnaMarie honored them by assembling at Chandler’s Tumbleweed Park and conducting a motorcycle motorcade.

“Cruz and AnnaMarie were loving, kind-hearted, thoughtful, and they both strongly believed in acknowledging everyone’s self-worth,” the couple’s obituary states.