DUI driver avoids murder conviction, found guilty of manslaughter

Gino Lopez

Following multiple days of deliberations, a San Luis Obispo jury convicted an Arvin man Wednesday of felony manslaughter, but not murder, for causing a 2016 crash on the Cuesta grade that killed a 16-year-old girl.

Jurors failed to reach a verdict on a charge of second-degree murder against Gino Lopez, 23. The jury convicted Lopez of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated with an enhancement for fleeing the scene of the crime. Jurors also convicted Lopez of leaving the scene of an accident and driving under the influence of alcohol with an enhancement for causing great bodily injury to more than one victim.

On April 15, 2016, Lopez was driving at high speeds southbound on Highway 101 toward San Luis Obispo. Just south of TV Tower Road on the Cuesta Grade, Lopez performed a turning maneuver that sent his 1994 Honda Civic into the guardrail and into another vehicle.

Lopez’s Honda was then struck by a third vehicle, causing one of his passengers, Emily Monique Reyes, to be ejected from the car. Reyes, a Grizzly Academy graduate who had planned to join the U.S. Marine Corps, died of her injuries. Lopez’s other passengers were injured but survived.

Following the crash, Lopez and one of his passengers fled the scene. Witnesses also testified that they were throwing beer cans out of the Honda.

Officers arrested Lopez after finding him walking along a hillside with the passenger who fled with him. Lopez was reportedly found to have been driving with a blood alcohol level of at least .10.

Lopez was charged with murder due to a state law requiring DUI offenders to agree that if they drive under the influence again and a person dies as a result of it, they may face a second-degree murder charge. Lopez was convicted of misdemeanor DUI in Kern County about nine months before the fatal crash.

The Arvin man now faces a prison sentence of up to 15 years. Had he been convicted of second-degree murder, Lopez would have faced 15 years to life in prison just for that single count.

Following the delivery of the verdict, San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow released a statement saying, though Lopez was not convicted of murder, the outcome of the trial was just.

“The tragic and completely avoidable death of young Ms. Reyes is a sobering reminder that driving under the influence is deadly dangerous and will not be tolerated in San Luis Obispo County,” Dow said. “We are thankful for the difficult work carried out by this jury and we respect the fact they were unable to reach a verdict on the charge of murder. The guilty verdicts are a just outcome and Mr. Lopez will no doubt carry the weight of his actions for the rest of his life.”

Lopez’s sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 3 in the courtroom of Judge Matthew Guerrero. Lopez is currently being held without bail in SLO County Jail.

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