Driver pleads guilty to vehicular manslaughter in Hwy. 52 crash



City News Service

A 23-year-old man who drove the wrong way on the freeway while under the influence of alcohol and drugs, causing the death of a sheriff’s deputy in pursuit, pleaded guilty Wednesday vehicular manslaughter and other charges.

Jose Pedro Lopez Jasso faces nearly 12 years in state prison when he is sentenced Jan. 7 in connection with the Feb. 28 death of Deputy Ken Collier.

In addition to gross manslaughter while intoxicated, Lopez pleaded guilty to DUI causing injury, driving with a measurable blood-alcohol causing injury and manufacturing a weapon while in jail — all felonies — and a misdemeanor charge of driving the wrong way on a divided highway.

Witnesses testified at a preliminary hearing in May that they saw a small sedan traveling eastbound on westbound state Route 52 around 3:15 a.m. on Feb. 28.

Maria Sanders said she was driving home to Miramar when she noticed the headlights of a wrong-way driver. The witness said she pulled over to the right shoulder and let the wrong-way vehicle pass her.

The witness said she noticed a sheriff’s vehicle with its emergency lights in pursuit, then saw it hit something and burst into flames.

Defense attorney Bruce Kotler argued unsuccessfully at the time that Lopez was not aware that he was being pursued and therefore should not be held to answer on the gross vehicular manslaughter charge. He called it a “freakish accident.”

But Deputy District Attorney Damon Mosler said Lopez should have known that driving the wrong way on a freeway is dangerous.

A toxicologist testified that the defendant’s blood tested positive for methamphetamine and a “significant amount” of marijuana.

A criminalist testified that Lopez’s blood-alcohol content was measured at .11 percent two hours after the crash.

Ryan DeBellis, an emergency service dispatcher with the sheriff’s department who was getting a ride from Collier, was not seriously injured in the accident.