Judge Larry Killoran refused today to release a 19-year-old Ferndale man who was allegedly driving drunk when his car collided with two parked cars, killing his teenage passenger.
Ismael Lopez Jr. is charged with vehicular manslaughter and felony drunken driving in the death of Eureka resident Emily Perry, 18. She died at the scene of the crash about midnight Dec. 17. on Myrtle Avenue near Russell Lane. Lopez Jr. also was injured in the collision and appeared via video camera from the jail. He was in a wheelchair.
Lopez Jr., who was arrested on a warrant Dec. 28, was scheduled this afternoon for a decision on whether he could be freed on supervised release. Killoran followed the Probation Department’s recommendation and turned down the request from Deputy Conflict Counsel Owen Tipps, representing Lopez Jr..
Perry’s mother Vanessa Perry, appearing by Zoom, cried as she spoke about her only daughter and the agony of dealing with her sudden death.
“I still have her Christmas presents wrapped,” the mother said. “I don’t know what to do.” Vanessa Perry said her daughter was smart, graduating from Eureka High School and immediately starting college. Emily wanted to be a dentist, opening her own office “so she could help people.”
Vanessa has two little boys who don’t understand what happened to their beloved older sister. And she’s had to answer questions such as “Do you want to come see your dead daughter?” and “Do you want her to be cremated?”
“I don’t want her ashes,” Vanessa said. “I want my daughter.”
She said she was “just begging” the judge to keep her daughter’s alleged killer behind bars.
Another family member, Emily’s aunt, wrote a letter to the judge. Her statement was read aloud today by Deputy District Attorney Jane Mackie.
“Please do not release Ismael Lopez Jr.,” the aunt wrote. She said that although the family has received little information about the fatal crash, “We do know he had enough drugs and alcohol in his system to take my niece’s life.”
The aunt described Emily as a straight-A student who was already living in her own apartment. But no matter how much homework she had, she was always ready to help her cousins with their school work. She also was a big help to her teen-age cousins who were having emotional problems.
“She was the rock of our family,” the aunt wrote.
When the Probation Department evaluates an inmate for supervised release, a score of one to 10 is issued on how risky the release would be. Lopez Jr.’s was low, a two. Defense attorney Tipps pointed out that Lopez Jr. received one point because he told evaluators he consumes beer and hard liquor on a weekly basis. The Probation Department described that as “severe drug and alcohol use over the past six months.”
Tipps said it could be disputed that weekly alcohol use is “severe.”
Judge Killoran responded with “He’s 19 years old and he’s not even allowed to do what he’s doing.”
In refusing to release Lopez Jr., the judge said he believed “public safety is the main concern.”
Lopez Jr.’s preliminary hearing is set for later this month. Mackie estimated it would last three hours.