2nd trial ends with hung jury in Gorman 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 second trial in a case involving the deaths of six people in a fiery Gorman crash has once again ended in a hung jury.

Richard Lopez, 72, is accused of six counts of misdemeanor mandatory manslaughter and one count of failure to comply with California Highway Patrol regulations as a commercial driver.

After going into deliberation Feb. 11, the 12-person jury returned with a split decision, seven guilty and five not guilty on the six charges of manslaughter. They found Lopez guilty of the misdemeanor failure to comply with California Highway patrol regulations as a commercial driver.

According to Ricardo Santiago, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, it now falls on the D.A.’s Office to make a decision on whether or not to have another trial on the first six counts. The first trial had ended in 2019 with a hung-jury, and was declared a mistrial by Judge Sherilyn Garnett.

That decision has not yet been made yet to pursue a third trial, Santiago said Wednesday.

Lopez will return to court on March 12 for sentencing on the single count he was found guilty for.

The prosecution during the trial attempted to make the case that on the early morning hours of June 28, 2016, Lopez had been negligent when his commercial vehicle, a Frieghtliner semi-truck, collided with a minivan near Gorman School Road.

The collision sent the mini-van off the freeway, and killed all six occupants including two women and four children: Connie Wu Li, 33; Flora Kuang, 33; Jayden Li, 5; Lucas Li, 3; Sky Ng, 4; and Venus Ng, 2.

Defense Attorney Ben Mironer stated that the minivan had been sticking out into the lane Lopez was driving 42 miles per hour southbound on Interstate 5, and that the vehicle’s hazard lights had not been on despite the vehicle being stopped on the far right shoulder of the freeway.

Jamie Castro, the prosecutor in the case, had argued in both the first case — which also ended in a hung jury — and this most recent case, that Castro had worked a 14-hour day without taking a mandated 10-hour rest.

She pointed to him needing an energy drink, yawning over a dozen times and the fact that he was saying he had “no time to rest” as evidence that Lopez was negligent in his driving of the 75,000 lb vehicle.

Mironer had used expert testimony in the previous trial to show that Lopez would have had likely only a half-second to respond to the minivan sticking out into the lane due to the road conditions and visibility at that time in the morning.

“My expert was of the opinion that maybe only a few people would have been able to avoid this,” Mironer said, adding that he himself had to say this as opposed to having an expert testify to this because the retrial conflicted with the previous expert’s availability.

Mironer continually asked the jury to “vote with their heads, not with their hearts.”

The typical sentence for the misdemeanor Lopez has been convicted of is typically one year, Santiago said.

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