A jury trying to decide if Darwin Issac Lazo-Lopez is guilty of a crime in a July 2016 traffic crash in which a 10-year-old girl was seriously injured deadlocked Thursday.
Judge Ralph Strother of Waco’s 19th State District Court declared a mistrial in Lazo-Lopez’s aggravated assault with a deadly weapon trial after the jury deliberated six hours and could not reach a unanimous verdict.
The jury deliberated five hours Thursday before informing the judge that they were having difficulty deciding if Lazo-Lopez is guilty of committing a reckless act after he admitted he was distracted by his cellphone before crashing his Ford pickup into the back of a Honda sedan and injuring the young girl.
Strother instructed jurors to keep deliberating, but an hour later they said they were hopelessly deadlocked. Court officials said the jury was split 7-5 for guilty.
The girl suffered head injures and was hospitalized for seven weeks after the crash in the 900 block of Lake Shore Drive. She recovered but still suffers from lingering effects of her injuries, officials said.
McLennan County First Assistant District Attorney Nelson Barnes said he will discuss the case with prosecutors Staci Scaman and Amanda Smith, but thinks the DA’s office will elect to try the case again.
Lazo-Lopez, an undocumented immigrant from Honduras, will remain jailed on an immigration hold, where he has been held for more than three years since the wreck.
Defense attorney Seth Sutton said prosecutors offered Lazo-Lopez a three-year plea offer before trial but he rejected it because he did not want a felony conviction, even though he likely would have been given credit for time served and released.
He also will face possible deportation once his case is resolved, officials said.
Sutton argued during the three-day trial that the case belongs in a civil court, not a criminal one.
“All along we have said this was a car accident,” Sutton said. “It was a bad accident, but an accident nonetheless. This was a case that should have always been handled as a civil matter. I am not surprised that when the state had to prove that this rose to the level of criminal recklessness, that they were unable to do so.
“The facts just don’t support a unanimous guilty verdict in this case. There is no reason to believe that when we try this case again, that they are going to be any more successful than they were today.”
Neither Scaman nor Smith returned phone calls seeking comment Thursday evening after the mistrial.
Lazo-Lopez admitted Wednesday that he looked down and tried to answer his phone when it rang shortly before 6 p.m. The car in which the girl was riding in the back seat was having mechanical problems and was moving very slowly in the right lane with its hazard lights flashing. Lazo-Lopez said he was distracted by his phone and feels badly for causing the girl’s injuries.
He also acknowledged that he deleted two text messages from his cellphone after the accident in an effort to hide from police the fact that he was distracted by his phone. Waco police also testified he gave several versions of what happened to different officers.
Sutton reminded jurors in closing statements of a question he asked Tuesday during jury selection. He asked the 60 people on the prospective jury panel to raise their hands if they have ever used their phones while driving. Only one did not raise his hand.
To commit a reckless act, a person exhibits a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person in a similar circumstance would use.
“So the gross deviation was that one juror who said he did not use his phone,” Sutton said. “For there to be recklessness, there has to be action that disregards the risk and was a gross deviation from a normal actor’s standpoint. So can you say that looking down at our phones is a gross deviation? Unfortunately, we all do it all the time. It is certainly not the smart thing to do but it is not criminal recklessness.”
The indictment against Lazo-Lopez charges he caused the accident by driving at an excessive speed, and/or by failing to yield the right of way, and/or by failing to keep a proper lookout for another motor vehicle, and/or by texting while driving.