TEXAS CITY — A Texas City truck driver was careless, reckless and “heartless” when he was behind the wheel of a commercial big rig that rolled over and killed an 11-year old girl waiting at a school bus stop in 2012, prosecutors argued Tuesday.
Hector A. Pena, 47, pleaded not guilty to a charge of manslaughter in the Sept. 24, 2012 death of Christina Marie Lopez, who was hit by a truck in the 2900 block of 26th Street in Texas City.
During opening arguments, prosecutors and defense attorneys both referred to the morning routines of the Pena and Lopez families, who lived next door to each other.
Christina Marie Lopez’s older brother had left for school when the sixth-grader at Levi Fry Elementary went to wait at an unmarked bus stop at 30th Avenue and 26th Street.
Pena’s two children were also at school when he left home in his truck shortly before 7:55 a.m. on his way to a terminal in Pasadena, defense attorney Carlos Garza said. An official for Altom Transport, the company that employed Pena at the time, said the driver was supposed to arrive in Pasadena at 8 a.m.
Prosecutors said Pena was in a rush.
Testimony on Tuesday differed on whether Lopez was sitting or standing at the bus stop, and on whether she was in the roadway or on the grass near the intersection. There were no sidewalks at the stop.
Pena, who had 18 years of experience driving trucks, saw the 11-year old girl as he was headed east on 30th Avenue and preparing to turn right onto 26th Street, Garza said.
“He makes the turn, knowing in his mind that he is not going to hit the little girl,” Garza said.
The truck was in first gear and moving 2 to 3 miles per hour when Pena felt something hit the back tire, Garza said. Pena immediately slammed the brakes, Garza said.
A College of the Mainland student driving to class pulled over when he saw Pena, “in a panic,” waving his hands in the roadway.
Jeff Villareal, who lived in the same neighborhood, said Pena shouted “she hit my truck” and said Pena’s hands were shaking so badly he asked Villareal to call 911.
Photos of the scene displayed in court showed the big rig, which did not have a trailer attached. Other photos showed a backpack and books scattered on the roadway with Lopez’s body.
Pena voluntarily gave statements to Texas City police, and submitted to a blood and alcohol test that showed he was not intoxicated at the time of the fatal collision, Garza said.
Pena was later indicted on a charge of manslaughter.
A jury awarded Nina and Manuel Lopez, Christina’s parents, about $6.71 million last year after the couple filed a lawsuit against Pena and his employer, claiming negligence.
“This was negligence — that’s been decided,” Garza said. “It was not criminal.”
Manuel Lopez, 33, testified that he and his wife had spoken with their daughter about standing away from the roadway while waiting at the bus stop, something he said was stipulated in an agreement allowing the school district to take children to school.
Lopez had left for work and was eating breakfast with some co-workers when he received a call from a Texas City police officer and “knew it was something bad.”
On his way home, Lopez said he saw his daughter’s shoes, backpack and books in the street.
The morning Christina Marie Lopez died, Manuel Lopez said he woke his daughter for school by brushing the stubble on his face against her cheek.
He said he has not shaved since Sept. 24, 2012.
Contact reporter Alex Macon at 409-683-5241 or email@example.com.