SANTA ANA (CNS) – A 23-year-old man was convicted today in a police pursuit that killed a pedestrian in Los Alamitos two years ago.
Azael Yovani Gonzales Mendoza was convicted of second-degree murder in the March 11, 2020, collision that killed 71-year-old Richard Manuel Lopez, a transient, who was sleeping outside a pharmacy when he was struck by the car Mendoza was driving, according to prosecutors.
Mendoza is scheduled to be sentenced May 20 and faces at least 15 years to life in prison.
Just after midnight, Mendoza led Cypress police on a high-speed chase that reached speeds exceeding 100 mph, Senior Deputy District Attorney Dan Feldman said in a trial brief.
Earlier that evening, Mendoza and three others were in a Honda Accord around the Lincoln Center Mobile Home Park in Cypress when they got into a fender-bender at about 11:50 p.m., Feldman said.
When the other driver, April Cortez, got out of her car to exchange information, the Honda’s motorist got out and ran away, Feldman said.
Mendoza got behind the wheel and drove away with two passengers in the car, Feldman said, adding that Cortez chased after the car and phoned in the license plate to a 911 dispatcher.
Mendoza drove away so fast that he outran a Cypress police officer, but a Los Alamitos officer picked up the pursuit a short time later, Feldman said.
Mendoza lost control while negotiating a left turn from southbound Bloomfield Street onto Katella Avenue, careened over the sidewalk and into a commercial building, where he slammed into a slumbering Lopez.
A good Samaritan restrained the defendant until police arrived while the others in the car ran away, Feldman said. Lopez was sleeping outside the C & H Pharmacy at 4012 Katella Ave., police said.
Feldman said Mendoza initially lied to police, but then later admitted he was the driver during the pursuit and that earlier he had downed five or six beers and tests showed that he had methamphetamine in his system.
Feldman argued that Mendoza was found to have been the “major contributor” of genetic material on the car’s air bag in DNA tests. He argued that 95% of the DNA on the airbag came from Mendoza.
Mendoza testified during the trial that he was in the back seat on the passenger side during the pursuit and that he was catapulted forward to the front seat to explain how his DNA ended up on the air bag.