A California father has been sentenced to more than a dozen years behind bars for inadvertently causing a house fire two years ago that took the lives of his two young children.
Henry Lopez, 39, appeared in court on Wednesday, January 8, where a San Diego Superior Court judge sentenced him to 12 years and eight months in prison for the fatal 2017 fire, The San Diego Tribune reports.
Lopez’s condominium in Bernardo Terrace caught fire in the early morning hours of Oct. 28, 2017. Prosecutors say the fire was sparked by a lit cigarette that the father of two dropped after passing out drunk; they also allege that Lopez first tried to save himself by fleeing his bedroom and breaking through a window on the first floor before returning back upstairs to try and rescue his sleeping children.
However, he was unsuccessful, with 7-year-old Isabella, who was found on the bottom bunk of her brother’s bunk bed, dying of smoke inhalation, while her 10-year-old brother Cristos was found in his father’s bed and later died at the hospital from the burns he sustained, according to the outlet.
Lopez did not make it out of the house on his own; firefighters found him passed out near the stairs and he was placed in a medical coma for three weeks as he recovered from the burns that he sustained on more than 13 percent of his body, according to the paper.
Prosecutors say Lopez had been drinking heavily prior to the fire, with a blood-alcohol level of 0.22 percent, nearly three times the legal limit. Conversely, his defense team argued that the fire was actually caused by a cellphone charger that was under Lopez’s pillow, but investigators did not find evidence of the cell phone or cigarette theory in what was left of the destroyed home, according to KTLA.
Lopez was found guilty in September of two counts of involuntary manslaughter, two counts of child endangerment, and one count of recklessly causing a fire, The Baltimore Sun reports.
Tensions were high during sentencing on Wednesday, with Lopez’s ex-wife and mother of the two children, Nikia Lopez, speaking to the court for nearly an hour, according to The Tribune. She claimed that her ex was abusive and had begun drinking and cheating while they were still together. She went on to say that she’ll never be able to join her two children, who she gave birth to after six miscarriages, in heaven because, “I’ll never forgive you for what you did to your children.”
At one point during his ex-wife’s statement, Lopez interrupted her to shout at her that she was lying, according to the paper.
Lopez’s defense of himself also prompted a strong response from one juror, who shouted profanities before walking out of the court room, NBC San Diego reports.
“F--k this! Take responsibility for your actions. It happened on your watch. F--k this,” the unnamed juror said.
Lopez’s family, however, also defended him when it was their time to speak, with his father stating that Lopez was “not a criminal” and suggesting that it was an accident, according to the outlet.
The judge, however, was not moved. Before giving Lopez what he described as the maximum sentence, he said that Lopez had “completely and utterly failed to accept responsibility for his actions,” according to The Tribune.
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