DUI driver tossed beer cans out of car, witnesses said

August 22, 2018

Gino Lopez

A DUI murder trial began Monday with multiple witnesses testifying that a driver and one of his passengers were tossing beer cans out of their car while their 16-year-old female friend lay dying in the roadway on the Cuesta Grade. [Tribune]

Gino Lopez, 23, a prior DUI offender, is facing a host of charges, including second-degree murder, over the death of Emily Monique Reyes. The teenager Reyes, of Wasco, was a 2015 graduate of the Grizzly Youth Academy in San Luis Obispo who had planned to join the U.S. Marine Corps.

On April 19, 2016, Lopez was speeding southbound on Highway 101 in a Honda when he crashed into a tractor-trailer and then a guardrail. Another driver then crashed a Volvo into the Honda.

The impact of the second collision caused Reyes to be ejected from Lopez’s car. Reyes died at the scene.

Officers arrested Lopez after finding him walking along a hillside with a male passenger. Lopez was reportedly found to have been driving with a blood alcohol level of at least .10.

Lopez has pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder, gross vehicular manslaughter, driving under the influence resulting in injury or death, hit-and-run resulting in injury or death and driving on a suspended license. He would face 15 years to life in prison if just convicted of the second-degree murder charge.

The defendant is charged with murder due to a state law requiring DUI offenders to agree that if they drive under the influence again and a person dies as a result of it, they may face a second-degree murder charge. Court records show Lopez was convicted of misdemeanor DUI in Kern County about nine months before the fatal crash.

On Monday, several witnesses testified about Lopez’s alleged out-of-control driving prior to the crash and his actions following the collision. CHP Officer Gerado Trejo testified he found beer cans and bloodied clothes down the western hillside near the scene of the crash.

Crystal Chothia, of Sonora, testified that she saw someone inside the smashed Honda covered in blood and a girl lying motionless on the pavement in front of the car. Vehicles had to swerve to avoid running over the girl, Chothia said.

Additionally, Chothia said she saw a male pulling Bud Light cans out of the floor area of the front seat of the car and throwing them down the hill.

Randy Tos, of Hanford, testified that he stopped his vehicle after the crash and ran over to the scene of the collision. He saw a girl in the roadway, another passenger in the Honda and two panicked young men extracting beer containers from the Honda, Tos said.

Tos said he tried to get the two men to stay at the scene while an off-duty EMT tended to the injured passengers, but they eventually walked away from the scene and down the western hillside, as witnesses yelled at them to stop. When asked if he smelled alcohol on the men, Tos said the smell was in the air.

The passenger who was spotted inside the vehicle suffered major injuries but survived. The male passenger who was allegedly tossing beer cans suffered minor injuries. He is not a defendant in the case but is listed as a potential witness.

Testimony in the trial is continuing Tuesday.