Jury begins deliberating in vehicular manslaughter case

Law enforcement personnel examine a vehicle involved in a fiery crash on Interstate 5 that killed six people. Photo courtesy of Rick McClure

The fate of the commercial driver charged with six counts of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter is now in the hands of a jury.

Lawyers wrapped up their arguments Friday in the trial of 71-year-old Richard Lopez, prompting the jury to begin deliberating Monday morning.

After one full day behind closed doors, weighing the evidence presented over seven weeks by Deputy District Attorney Jamie Castro and defense lawyer Ben Mironer, the jury had not come up with a verdict.

At one point in their deliberations Monday, they asked to have the 911 call played back for them.

The jury resumes deliberations Tuesday morning.

On Friday, Mironer presented his argument to the jury.

Reflecting Monday on what he told the jury, Mironer said: “Our main argument was that the visibility testing, conducted by the MAIT team, demonstrated that there was insufficient time and distance for Mr. Lopez to stop or swerve to avoid this accident.”

The MAIT is the California Highway Patrol’s specially-trained Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team, which reconstructs traffic collisions.

Mironer said he also told the jury Friday to take a close look at data supplied by the global positioning system fastened to Lopez’s truck.

“The GPS evidence, from the truck, showed that the day before the accident, Mr. Lopez drove very little. From 7:13 a.m. to 8:13 p.m., 13 hours, he drove approximately 90 minutes.”

At the heart of the prosecution’s case, presented over six weeks, was the assertion Lopez was fatigued when he hit the van.

Lopez is charged with six misdemeanor counts of vehicular manslaughter for allegedly having struck 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 2016 Toyota Sienna 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.

It was the defense lawyer’s assertion that his client did rest on the night of the crash.

“He took a break from 9:30 a.m. to 4:20 p.m., where he was on scene, on the in-dash video, that he spent at least four hours and 40 minutes, up to six hours and 50 minutes in his sleeper berth,” Mironer said, noting that rest was on the Monday, following a weekend where his client spent 52 consecutive hours off.

“My expert, Dr. David Krauss, explained all of the variables and complicating elements, aside from fatigue, that made it difficult to discern and react to the minivan,” Mironer said.

“He explained that if Mr. Lopez was able to avoid the collision, another car or truck would’ve hit the minivan shortly thereafter. The MAIT testing, and his testimony, showed there was a small window of opportunity to avoid this collision, and that most people may not have been able to avoid it,” he said.

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