ROTTERDAM — In an unusual move, a Schenectady County grand jury has brought a murder charge against a driver in a fatal vehicle crash in November.
Oscar F. Lopez, 31, of Rotterdam, has been indicted for second-degree murder in a case where he is accused of being high on a combination of drugs and alcohol when his pickup truck — speeding on the wrong side of the road — slammed into another vehicle and killed a local woman
The grand jury on Wednesday handed up a seven-count indictment charging Lopez with murder, plus three counts of aggravated vehicular assault, and single counts of aggravated driving while intoxicated, driving while impaired by the combined influence of alcohol and drugs, first-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a vehicle. All are felonies. He is also charged with misdemeanor second-degree aggravated unlicensed operation.
Rotterdam police had arrested Lopez on a charge of vehicular manslaughter immediately after the crash on Nov. 1, which took the life of Amanda Slaven, 33, of Rotterdam. The grand jury then increased the charge to murder.
Schenectady County District Attorney Robert M. Carney acknowledged such a high-level charge in a fatal crash case is highly unusual. It is the first time a murder charge has been brought under such circumstances in Schenectady County, but Carney said it has occurred in other jurisdictions.
“It requires a really unusual, egregious fact pattern,’ Carney said. “You have to have a mental state of indifference to the outcome, where you’re not trying to control of your vehicle…We’re saying he was aware of what he was doing and didn’t care. He was completely indifferent to others.”
The crash occurred about 12:20 a.m. on Hamburg Street, in the vicinity of Chism Street. The indictment accuses Lopez of recklessly driving a motor vehicle at an extremely high rate of speed in the wrong lane when it struck the vehicle driven by Slaven, killing her.
Lopez is charged with having a B.A.C. of above .18, and being impaired by the combined influence of alcohol, cocaine and marijuana. The murder indictment alleges that Lopez caused Slaven’s death “by recklessly engaging in conduct that created a grave risk of serious personal injury or death, under circumstances evincing a depraved indifference to human life.”
Second-degree murder is an A-1 felony. Lopez faces a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison. Further proceedings will take place in Schenectady County Court.
Carney said he couldn’t comment on the evidence supporting the prosecution theory, “but we believe it supports this charge that Amanda Slaven was a victim of murder that night by the hand of Oscar Lopez.”
Immediately after the crash, police said Lopez’s pickup truck slammed head-on into the SUV driven by Slaven.
Carney said the grand jury heard testimony from 16 witnesses over three days before issuing the indictment. The Rotterdam police led the investigation, assisted by the state police and Colonie Police Department.
“That grand jury has returned this indictment containing a murder charge, which is unusual in a case where a death on the highway is caused by an intoxicated driver,” Carney said.
Slaven, who had a son, was a supervisor for the state Department of Taxation and Finance in Latham.
Lopez suffered injuries in the crash that required him to be airlifted to Albany Medical Center Hospital and was kept there for several days, but is currently being held in the Schenectady County Jail.
Lopez’s DWI charge was increased to a felony due to his having a previous DWI conviction in the past 10 years, police said. His license was revoked at the time of the fatal crash.