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Jury In Case Of DUI Manslaughter Death Of Heat Dancer To Continue Deliberations

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Carey Codd is a General Assignment Reporter for CBS4 News and jo...
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South Florida Crime

FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – A Broward County jury started deliberating Tuesday in the case of a man accused of DUI manslaughter for the death of Miami Heat dancer Nancy Lopez-Ruiz.

The jury retired to its room at 2 p.m. Tuesday to begin deliberations after closing arguments ran through most of Tuesday morning. Jurors concluded their deliberations around 7:30 pm and will reconvene at 9 am on Wednesday.

At roughly a half-hour into deliberations, the jury requested to see surveillance video of the crash, which was granted. A second request was also granted to let the jury see the surveillance video of Careaga drinking inside a mall before the crash.

Closing arguments followed a day in which the man accused of the crime, Mario Careaga, took the witness stand.  The prosecution started its closing argument showing video of Careaga drinking at a bar and explaining the DUI manslaughter law.

“Mr. Careaga must have 13 or 14 drinks,” said prosecutor Kristen McKenzie. “That sounds like a lot — a couple of ounces at least in each of those drinks.”

Prosecutors say Carreaga’s blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit. However, Careaga’s attorney — David Bogenschutz — told jurors that the state’s case against Careaga is flawed.

“No bloodshot eyes, no slurred speech, no smell of alcohol,” said Bogenschutz. “Nothing that makes me think he’s intoxicated.”

Careaga contends that he was trying to avoid a dangerous driver behind him when he swerved and hit Lopez-Ruiz. Prosecutors say there was no dangerous driver behind him.

Nancy Lopez-Ruiz’s mother, Adela, is hopeful that a verdict will come Wednesday. She showed CBS 4 News an angel that Nancy gave her and that she carries with her to court each day.

“Our heart is broken,” Adela Lopez-Ruiz said. “The whole family is suffering. We are here from far away but we are there in her memory.”

She hopes others learn from her family’s pain.

“Drinking and driving is a deadly combination and there must be consequences for someone who kill another person,” she said.

Before they concluded their deliberations on Tuesday, jurors did ask the judge a potentially telling question. Jurors wanted to know what their verdict would be if they determined that Careaga was over the legal limit of alcohol but was not too impaired to drive. Judge Ilona Holmestold jurors she could not give them an answer and that they needed to rely on the initial instructions she gave them.

Earlier in the case, Careaga described how the “immediate impact caused the airbag to go off and his glasses flew off.”  “I had no idea what occured,” he said.

Often Fighting back tears, Careaga said that when he got out of his vehicle with his domestic partner he saw Nancy Lopez-Ruiz in front of his car.

“We started to pray and we continue to pray for the family of Nancy everyday,” said Careaga.

While Careaga testified, Lopez-Ruiz’s parents left the courtroom.

Last week, the jury was shown still photos from inside the Galleria Mall where Careaga was attending a party and allegedly drinking.

“There were three drinks that I got, I finished two, but the third I did not finish I left it on the counter,” said Careaga in court.

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.

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.

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