TEXAS CITY — A jury will continue deliberations today on whether a Texas City man was driving recklessly when his big rig struck and killed an 11-year-old waiting at a bus stop in 2012.
Hector Pena, 47, pleaded not guilty to a charge of manslaughter in connection with the Sept. 24, 2012, death of Christina Marie Lopez in the 2900 block of 26th Street.
Prosecutors contend that Pena was late for work when the 17,000-pound truck he was driving ran over Lopez, a sixth-grader at Levi Fry Elementary School.
Pena told investigators he was driving with the sun in his eyes and saw Lopez waiting at the unmarked bus stop. As he made the right turn from 30th Avenue onto 26th Street, he lost sight of the 11-year-old girl, Assistant District Attorney Bill Reed said during closing arguments in Pena’s criminal trial Monday.
“But Mr. Pena made the turn anyway,” Reed said.
Defense attorneys for Pena argued that the experienced big rig driver was not hurrying or driving recklessly.
An official from Pena’s former employer, Altom Transport, testified that Pena had a “window” of time in which he could arrive at a terminal in Pasadena.
Pena did not violate any traffic laws. He was not intoxicated or distracted, and he cooperated fully with investigators, defense attorney Jeth Jones said.
Pena told detectives Lopez was sitting on the street before he made the right turn onto 26th Street, and an independent accident investigator hired by the defense testified Monday that Lopez had likely been hit by the big rig after the front bumper and tire passed by her.
A College of the Mainland student who was the first to arrive at the scene of the accident testified Pena said, “She hit my truck.”
Jones told jurors it was an emotional case, but said convicting his client would not change the fact of Lopez’s death.
“If you get past the emotions, Mr. Pena is not guilty of the charges,” he said.
Reed accused Pena’s attorneys of trying to blame the fatal accident on Lopez, and referred to testimony from Texas City investigators who said the tire of Pena’s truck had left the roadway and gone onto the grass.
Reed said Pena was in charge of driving his vehicle safely, and a wide right turn coupled with other choices Pena made as a driver that morning directly caused Lopez’s death.
Pena’s experience as a truck driver is irrelevant, Reed said.
“Your training doesn’t say it’s OK to make this turn and run over a kid,” Reed said.
In October, a civil jury awarded Lopez’s family $6.71 million after the 11-year-old girl’s parents filed a lawsuit against Pena and Altom Transport, claiming the driver and company were negligent.
A jury of six men and six women will decide Pena’s guilt or innocence on the charge of manslaughter. Jurors can also find Pena guilty of a lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide.
The case is being tried in Judge Bret Griffin’s 212th District Court.