Monday, November 14, 2011

Natalie Housand

Whiteville | A Columbus County Superior Court jury weighed available evidence in the case of Jose Jesus Garcia Lopez and came back Friday with a conviction of involuntary manslaughter for a 2004 motor vehicle crash that took the life of a Tabor City woman.

Lopez, 34, was also convicted of hit-and-run/fail to stop for personal injuries or death, assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury and felony death by vehicle.

Prosecutors sought a second-degree murder conviction in connection with the head-on crash Dec. 19, 2004, on N.C. 904 that killed Natalie Housand, 20. Lopez, a Mexican national who testified Thursday through an interpreter, claims his brother was driving his Jeep Cherokee at the time of the crash but said he was too drunk to remember any details.

The maximum prison sentence for involuntary manslaughter is two years. Lopez could have received about 20 years if convicted of the murder count. Lopez will be sentenced Tuesday after a hearing, where aggravating factors will be presented by prosecutors.

The seven-woman, five-man jury deliberated about two-and-a-half hours before returning with its verdict. Disappointment was evident on the face of prosecutors, who like others involved in the trial remain subject to an order by Judge Ola Lewis not to discuss the case.

Trial testimony has shown that after the head-on collision, Lopez fled the crash scene into nearby woods and reappeared more than an hour later, cut and bleeding. Prosecutors maintained throughout the trial that he was driving the Jeep. Defense lawyer Scott C. Dorman told jurors in his summation that there was no physical evidence to prove Lopez was behind the wheel.

Attempts by Dorman and prosecutors to locate Victor Garcia Lopez, the defendant's brother, were unsuccessful. None of the witnesses in the five-day trial saw him at the crash scene. Several state troopers and employees of the Whiteville hospital that Jose Lopez was treated at testified the defendant admitted to driving the car.

Lopez displayed no emotion as the verdict was repeated to him by an interpreter.

Authorities have said Lopez entered the country illegally. He testified during the trial he has been in the United States for 14 years and had legal work papers and a valid N.C. driver's license. During the jury selection process, Dorman questioned each candidate about his or her attitude regarding the immigration issue.

Lopez could receive up to four years for the assault with a deadly weapon conviction. By convicting Lopez of involuntary manslaughter, jurors agreed he was negligent in his actions but did not act with malice. Lopez could receive a prison term of about eight years if he is sentenced consecutively for the four felonies.

A blood sample taken from Lopez four hours after the crash showed a blood alcohol content of 0.12 percent. A prosecution witness testified during the trial that Lopez' BAC at the time of the crash was 0.18 percent, more than twice the 0.08 percent legal limit for drivers in North Carolina.



  1. Natalie would have been 27 years old on Friday November 11, 2011. She was my best friend and I still miss her dearly. It has been almost 7 years. Lopez is out of jail and free to live his life. I hope he doesn't do this to anyone else, but chances are he will. Thank you for posting this article. I am glad to know that her senseless death has not been forgotten.

  2. Amy,

    I'm so sorry for your pain and what happened to Natalie. The laws covering situations like this need to be changed and fast. Lopez should be doing life in prison at the very least.

  3. Reading this article just makes me sick to think that he is out. Natalie was my best friend also and it just wasn't fair what happened. She meant so much to the people that knew her and I really believe the laws need to be changed when things like this happen, because they happen way more often than they should. I am also glad to know that her senseless death has not been forgotten.

  4. The laws on drunk drivers need to be stiffer but the main thing that has been coming to light recently is that illegal aliens do this at a much higher rate than other drivers. I think it has to do with the fact that they get off with either no penalty or a very light sentence like in Natalie's case. A four year sentence? He should have done life for this.


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