Opening Statement Given In Heat Dancer DUI Manslaughter Trial
South Florida Crime
FT. LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – An opening statement was given and the first witness was on the stand Tuesday morning in the trial of a man charged with DUI manslaughter in the death of Miami Heat dancer Nancy Lopez-Ruiz.
Mario Careaga was heading west on Sunrise Boulevard in Ft. Lauderdale when he reportedly veered out of his lane and struck Lopez-Ruiz from behind in September 20010.
Lopez-Ruiz was parked on her motorcycle in the median where U.S. 1 and Sunrise Boulevard split when she was hit. According to Ft. Lauderdale Police, the force of the crash sent her body more than 130 feet in the air.
Lopez-Ruiz died at the scene of the accident.
In her opening statement, prosecutor Kristen McKenzie said a young life was snuffed out by a reckless action.
“The evidence will be overwhelming to that effect,” Mckenzie told the jury. “This young lady was 22-years old, she was at the height of her career, she dreamed of being a Miami Heat dancer and she had just made the team.”
Defense attorney David Bogenschutz chose to reserve his opening statement until later. Bogenschutz represented former New York Yankess player Jim Leyritz when he was charged with DUI manslaughter for December 2007 crash in which Fredia Veitch was killed. But jurors disagreed and convicted Leyritz of the lesser charge of DUI.
Prosecutors showed jurors surveillance video from a motorcycle shop which captured the time just before the accident and at the point of impact.
Witness Victor Passero testified he was behind Careaga’s white Mercedes that night and saw him swerve into Lopez-Ruiz.
“Yeah, the white Mercedes struck the motorcycle,” testified Passero. “The Mercedes run into the motorcycle and just ran it over.”
Careaga, a Fort Lauderdale insurance executive, had blood alcohol levels of .24 percent and .23 percent that were measured in two samples after the crash, according to probable cause affidavit.
Lopez-Ruiz’s parents, who live in Bradenton, were in court for jury selection and opening day’s testimony.
“It’s been very hard, I have no words to express my pain,” said Lopez-Ruiz’s mother Adela Lopez-Ruiz. “Every child that you have, that is your whole world. That’s why it is important for people that drink and drive to know that they can go outside and make victims of innocent people. They must know that they will be held accountable.”
The jury was shown still photos from inside the Galleria Mall where Careaga was attending a party and allegedly drinking.
His domestic partner, Ray Stapleton, testified Careaga had “two vodka drinks.” Leaving the party, Stapleton said he saw the motorcycle in the median and warned Careaga to watch out.
After the crash Stapleton, tearfully told the jury he went to check on the victim lying in the road.
“I could see her soul had left her body,” Stapleton said. “And I began to pray.”
The trial is scheduled to continue Wednesday.