FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – A Broward County jury found Mario Careaga guilty of DUI manslaughter in the 2010 death of Miami Heat dancer Nancy Lopez-Ruiz.
The verdict was read Wednesday around 3:45 PM. Careaga was found guilty on two counts of DUI manslaughter.
Initially Judge Ilona Holmes decided not to formally accept the verdict after allegations of potential juror misconduct emerged. The judge and attorneys spent more than an hour questioning each juror individually about any derogatory comments they may have made or heard from other jurors regarding Careaga’s lifestyle with his domestic partner.
“Do you rememeber the jurors talking about the sexual orientation of Mr. Careaga or of Mr. Stapleton?” asked defense attorney David Bogenschutz, of one of the jurors.
“No,” replied the juror.
Each juror denied hearing any comments that they felt would have had a negative impact on the case and assured all parties that Careaga’s lifestyle did not have an impact on the outcome of the case.
“It was a very hard case,” said one of the jurors. “I’m sorry that we had to come to the that decision but it is what it is.”
Prosecutors seemed confident that jurors were telling that the truth and that Careaga’s lifestyle played no role in the juror’s decision. However, Judge Holmes allowed Careaga to go home Wednesday night as the parties prepare to return to court on Thursday morning for argument on the matter. Careaga’s attorney is expected to ask for a mistrial.
After court ended for the day, the victim’s mother, Adela Lopez-Ruiz, clutched a homemade angel that Nancy gave her long ago. She said the verdict is justice.
“This is not going to bring Nancy back to us but this is going to us some kind of peace,” she said.
After waiting 3 and a half years for the case to get to trial, this grieving mother has to wait at least another day to find out whether the guilty verdict against Careaga will stand. But she remains confident in the system.
“We expect to see that he’s going to face time in jail for what he did — kill our daughter,” she said.
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.
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.