Testimony started Tuesday in the trial of a 32-year-old man who prosecutors say may have been texting and driving when he caused an accident that seriously injured a 10-year-girl in July 2016.
Darwin Issac Lazo-Lopez, 32, is on trial in Waco’s 19th State District Court on one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Lazo-Lopez, who has been jailed more than three years waiting for his trial, was driving his pickup truck in the 900 block of Lake Shore Drive near Waco Riverbend Park about 6 p.m. when he smashed into the back of a sedan, seriously injuring a girl in the back seat.
Assistant District Attorney Amanda Smith, who is prosecuting the case with Staci Scaman, told jurors in opening statements that an investigation of the crash showed Lazo-Lopez was speeding and after the crash deleted two text messages he sent at or about the time of the incident.
She said Lazo-Lopez told police conflicting stories about how the accident occurred, including that he looked down momentarily and did not have time to react and that he was “looking at scenery.”
Lazo-Lopez’s attorney, Seth Sutton, told jurors in his opening that the car in which the girl was riding was disabled in some fashion, had its flashers on and was “traveling extremely slowly.” He said there was a car between that car and Lazo-Lopez that swerved at the last second to avoid the car, leaving Lazo-Lopez with little or no time to react before he struck the back end of the car.
Sutton said Lazo-Lopez may have had a “moment of inattention,” but cautioned the jury that the state “wants you to seize” on the possibility that he may have been using his phone or texting before the incident.
“While he was at fault, he didn’t commit aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and we think you will find him not guilty of that offense,” Sutton said.
The indictment against Lazo-Lopez alleges his truck was a deadly weapon.
The indictment also 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.
Waco police Officer Erin McCullough testified that when she arrived at the scene, the girl was lying on the ground and people were trying to hold her down because she was screaming and thrashing around in pain. She had a serious head injury, her nose was bleeding and her eyes were swollen shut, McCullough said.
She said Lazo-Lopez told her he took his eyes off the road for just a second. She asked if he was adjusting the radio or using his cellphone, and he became defensive, saying he never said he was distracted and that he is a cautious driver, the officer testified.
Later, Lazo-Lopez told her he may have been looking “at the scenery,” she said.
Under cross-examination, the officer agreed with Sutton that if he was texting, it may have been ill-advised but it was not illegal at the time because the law prohibiting texting while driving did not take effect until Sept. 1, 2017.
The officer also told Sutton that if the girl had not been injured so badly, she likely would have cited him for causing the accident and he would not have gone to jail.
Paramedic Kadeem Long testified that the accident scene was one of the worst he has seen where there was that much damage to a vehicle and someone inside survived.
Lazo-Lopez is an undocumented immigrant from Honduras and faces deportation. His case has drawn the attention of the Waco Immigrants Alliance, which has scheduled a press conference for Wednesday morning at the McLennan County Courthouse. Judge Ralph Strother learned of the press conference and placed the attorneys in the case under a gag order and made sure jurors would be inside before the press conference starts.
Lazo-Lopez’s family and the Waco Immigrants Alliance claim the charges against him are racially motivated. They started a petition drive asking that the charges be dismissed so Lazo-Lopez can deal with his immigration issues “and not continue to be arbitrarily detained in county lockup.”