- Fatal Early Morning Crash in Myrtletown
- Judge Denies Bail for 19-Year-Old Ferndale Resident Accused of DUI Manslaughter in Myrtletown
- Ferndale Teen Enters Surprise Guilty Plea in DUI Manslaughter Case
A Ferndale man who was driving drunk when his car crashed on Myrtle Avenue, fatally injuring his teenage passenger, was sentenced this morning to a four-year suspended prison sentence and one year in jail.
Judge John Feeney also ordered that 19-year-old Ismael Lopez Jr. be placed on supervised probation for three years and perform 100 hours of community service.
“Hopefully a majority of the community service work is at local high schools,” Feeney said, “advising others of the dangers and pitfalls of driving under the influence.”
On Dec. 17, Lopez had been drinking heavily and smoking marijuana when he lost control of his car and it hit a parked vehicle. According to statements at today’s hearing, he was able to climb out of the car and into the back of a nearby pickup truck. When officers arrived, he told them no-one else was in the car.
But when the vehicle caught fire, they heard a scream. Lopez’s passenger, 18-year-old Emily Perry, was in the burning vehicle.
Lopez told police he didn’t know his passenger’s name.
“I don’t know that bitch,” he said.
Perry was hospitalized and hung on for about two hours before she died. Because authorities didn’t know her identity and couldn’t notify her family, she died alone.
Lopez, who had been working at a local dairy farm, has a girlfriend who is pregnant with twins. But on the day of the fatal crash, Perry’s family members said, he was hanging out and flirting with Emily. She was with him in the car because Lopez “wanted some alone time.”
“My grand-daughter,” Perry’s grandmother said today, speaking over Zoom. “Our baby girl. My daughter’s only little girl … time is not healing my heart.”
The grandmother said she had some compassion for Lopez until she learned he had been able to get out of the car but did nothing to help Emily and lied about having a passenger.
“It makes me sick to my stomach,” she said.
With credit for time served, Debbie Perry said, Lopez will serve 182 days in jail.
“I ask you. Is this enough time for your only little girl? I’m pleading for the maximum time. He had no compassion for (Emily), no compassion for his girlfriend.”
Perry’s mother, Vanessa Perry, cried as she spoke via Zoom about the devastating effect of her daughter’s sudden death.
“As a mother it tears me apart to try not to mourn for my daughter and be strong for my little boys,” the mother said. The family is “so damaged and broken” it will never be the same.
Family members described Emily as the shining star of the family, always there to cheer and comfort her loved ones. At 18 she was already living on her own and working — a straight A student with dreams of becoming a dentist.
Lopez, who was in court today but was not shown on video, also made a statement. He sobbed as he said he is “so sorry for everything that happened. I made a horrible decision, to enter that car and to drive that car.”
“I can’t sleep at night,” Lopez said. “If I could I would take her place. She didn’t deserve to die. I wish it was me. I need a chance to redeem myself — this world will never be the same for me.”
Lopez’s attorney, Conflict Counsel Meagan O’Connell, had asked Feeney to suspend imposition of sentence, meaning at some point in the distant future Lopez could ask to have his felony reduced to a misdemeanor. She said Lopez is very young, has no criminal history, and drinking and driving was “an aberration” for him.
At the time of the crash Lopez had a perforated bowel, was in pain, under great stress and “not in his right mind” when he spoke to police, she said. Suspending imposition of sentence would allow Lopez to be “gainfully employed and have his rights restored,” O’Connell said. “It’s not a free pass … there will forever be a strike prior on his record.”
Deputy District Attorney Jane Mackey responded that she had spoken with Perry’s family and “they made it very clear that their daughter’s death can never be a misdemeanor.”
Lopez is very young and an inexperienced drinker, but by his own admission “he drank a lot and smoked a lot of cannabis” on the day of the crash, Mackey said.
Four years is the maximum term for vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence. If he were to be convicted of a felony later on, any prison sentence would be doubled because of this offense.
Judge Feeney noted he has presided over too many hearings involving death and DUI.
“I wish there was some way to return Emily to the love and support of her family and friends,” he said. “She appeared to have a bright future.”
Lopez pleaded guilty almost immediately after his arrest, which prosecutor Mackey called “a first step.”