SCHENECTADY – Oscar Lopez drove with a blood alcohol level of 0.19 percent, had cocaine and marijuana in his system and ignored multiple pleas not to drive impaired following a pair of Halloween parties in 2020, Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney told a judge Monday.
Carney spoke in opening statements of Lopez’ second-degree murder trial, where Lopez is not only accused of driving drunk and causing the death of 33-year-old Rotterdam resident Amanda Slaven on Hamburg Street Nov. 1, 2020 as he drove 94 mph in the wrong lane, but of doing so with depraved indifference to human life, which would amount to second-degree murder.
“Amanda was the first person he had an opportunity to kill and he murdered her,” Carney told Judge Matthew Sypniewski in his opening statements Monday.
Lopez’ attorney Adam Eggleston, however, countered in his own opening statements that there is no doubt his client was impaired at the time of the incident, but said Lopez lacked the ability to know what he was doing due to his impaired state.
“I believe the evidence will ultimately demonstrate that the people based their case on faulty but crucial assumptions,” Eggleston told the judge.
Lopez, 32, is standing trial in Schenectady County Court on on eight-count indictment, including a top count of second-degree murder with depraved indifference. Lopez’ trial is being held in front of Sypniewski and without a jury after Lopez chose to have the judge decide the case alone.
Prosecutors say Lopez killed Slaven as he collided with her vehicle head-on in his Chevrolet Silverado just after midnight that morning.
He also faces multiple counts of felony second-degree vehicular manslaughter, one count of aggravated vehicular homicide, and one count each of aggravated driving while intoxicated, driving with ability impaired by drugs and alcohol and aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle.
Prosecutors must prove that Lopez acted with extreme recklessness and utter indifference to the safety of others when he got behind the wheel the night of the crash in order to secure a conviction of murder with depraved indifference. A conviction on the murder charge would carry a sentence of up to 25 years to life in state prison.
Prosecutors say Lopez arrived at a Halloween party in Albany around 3 p.m. with his girlfriend and their 2-year-old son on Oct. 31, 2020. There, he consumed alcohol, marijuana and cocaine. During the gathering, a number of individuals approached Lopez and asked him not to drive due to his impaired state, prosecutors said.
Lopez then made his way to another party around 9 p.m. that same day, where prosecutors say he was approached by several more individuals asking him not to drive.
When it came time to leave the party at 11 p.m., Lopez forced his way into the driver’s seat despite having a revoked license and began to drive towards Rotterdam with his girlfriend and son in the vehicle, prosecutors said.
Lopez, on Monday, admitted to having a revoked license at the time of the incident.
Eventually, Lopez pulled over near the corner of Washington Avenue Extension and Route 155, following pleas from his girlfriend, who then took his keys and exited the vehicle with their son and began waving down other vehicles for help, according to prosecutors.
Lopez became angry and struck his girlfriend. A good Samaritan that witnessed the altercation interjected, offering Lopez’s girlfriend and son a ride and threatened to call 911, prosecutors said.
Lopez drove off and returned home, where he told his girlfriend’s brother, who was watching the couple’s other children, of the incident and became despondent and exited the home where he had a similar altercation with neighbors.
“He was furious, angry and despondent,” Carney told the judge.
The neighbors asked Lopez to move his vehicle, which was blocking their driveway, and to discuss the incident with them further. Lopez eventually got into his vehicle and headed towards the direction of Hamburg Street, where he collided with Slaven.
The force of the collision sent Slaven’s vehicle 250 feet in the opposite direction at 44 mph. Lopez made no attempts to evade the collision, which resulted in “massive trauma” to Slaven, according to Carney. Carney said prosecutors have surveillance footage to corroborate their claims and plan to present testimony from witnesses who will speak out about Lopez’s impaired state.
“Her death, mercifully, came within seconds,” Carney said.
But Eggleston said the prosecution’s version of events hinges on the fact that the altercation between Lopez and his girlfriend on the side of the road is what sparked his client’s actions that led to the fatal crash.
He said Lopez had opportunities to lash out at other individuals, including his girlfriend’s brother and the neighbors, who he noted failed to call 911.
Eggleston also said there is evidence indicating that Slaven was also impaired at the time of the crash and that Lopez did attempt to prevent the crash, which he said was a “tragic accident.”
“The People are attempting to establish that Oscar was so upset from this event that rather than go after his brother-in-law or his neighbors, he was going to pick out the first car he saw and go after it,” Eggleston said.
He added that Lopez could not have the mental state of depraved indifference due to his level of impairment.
“Oscar did not possess a mental state of depraved indifference for human life,” he said. “His mental state was impaired by liquor, THC and cocaine.”
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.