Jury hears how accused trucker drove safely before fatal crash

The trucker accused of killing two women and four young children when his big rig hit a minivan two years ago showed no signs of weaving lanes, swerving or driving in a “serpentine manner” on the freeway before the crash.

He wasn’t driving erratically, talking on a cellphone or playing with the radio, according to answers given by the specially trained California Highway Patrol investigator under cross examination at the vehicular manslaughter trial of Richard Lopez Thursday.

“He wasn’t doing anything to make him inattentive,” CHP investigator Joseph Machado testified in San Fernando Superior Court after agreeing to a checklist of safe driving indicators suggested by the defense lawyer.

Lopez is charged with six misdemeanor counts of vehicular manslaughter for allegedly having run into the back of a minivan with his Freightliner truck at 3:37 a.m. on June 28, 2016, in the southbound lanes of Interstate 5, just south of Gorman School Road.

The two women who died inside the burning minivan were Connie Wu Li and Flora Kuang, both 33. The children killed in the same vehicle were Jayden Li, 5; Lucas Li, 3; Sky Ng, 4; and Venus Ng, 2.

“Did you ever notice him speeding?” defense attorney Ben Mironer asked Thursday.  

Machado said no.

“Did he maintain a safe speed throughout the (dash cam) video?”  

Machado said yes.

“Did he have his seat belt on?”

Machado answered in the affirmative.

“Did you ever see him distracted?”

Machado said no.

“He was never on the phone. He never switched radio stations,” Mironer said, to which Machado agreed.

“He was driving pretty straight,” the CHP investigator said. “Aside from the one time he went over the rumble strip.”

“He never seemed to doze. One time, his eyes closed,” he added, referring to 30 minutes of dash cam recording of Lopez’s driving, which was played for the jury Wednesday.

Mironer asked him: “But he didn’t fall asleep, right?”

“Aside from his chin dropping there wasn’t dozing,” Machado said.

“There was a lot of evidence of safe driving seen throughout the entire video, right?”

“Right,” Machado said.

Machado, an investigator with the CHP’s specialized accident reconstruction team, known as the Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team, testified earlier that he watched the video of Lopez driving more than 100 times.

The court learned Friday that there were two traffic collisions: an initial crash involving a BMW that rear-ended the minivan, a 2016 Toyota Sienna, and a second crash, in which Lopez is accused of rear-ending the same minivan with the big rig he was driving.

Mironer began his cross-examination Thursday by asking Machado about damage to the minivan caused by the BMW.

“Is it reasonable to conclude that the first collision (with the BMW) is what caused the filler neck to separate on the minivan?” Mironer asked.

The filler neck is a tube that connects the fuel filler inlet on a vehicle to the rubber hose attached to its gas tank.

Deputy District Attorney Jamie Castro objected to the line of questioning, prompting Judge Sherilyn Garnett to talk to both lawyers outside the courtroom, away from the jury for about 10 minutes.

When they returned to court, Garnett allowed the question.

“Based on your reconstruction investigation, is it reasonably possible the BMW caused the filler neck damage?” Mironer said.

Machado said: “Thinking about the difference in speeds, about 20 to 30 miles per hour, it’s the same as a stopped car being hit. I don’t think it’s consistent.”

It was Mironer’s assertion that a damaged filler neck could have caused the vehicle fire.

“The source of the fire I left up to the arson investigators,” Machado told the court.

The trial, finishing its third week, is scheduled to continue Friday afternoon and continue into next week.

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