Janesville man given 5 years in hit-and-run
But he had the misfortune of being on the same road at the same time as Omar Miguel Lopez, who was speeding at 50 mph on Mt. Zion Avenue and ignored a red light before colliding with Griffith at Pontiac Drive.
That’s how Assistant District Attorney Katharine Buker described the reckless actions of Lopez at his sentencing hearing Wednesday in Rock County Court.
Several people were in the area when the crash happened at about 4 p.m., and they could tell Griffith was seriously injured, likely fatally, she said.
“Mr. Lopez, who was the person who caused those injuries, didn’t stay to help. He left,” she said.
Judge Richard Werner sentenced Lopez, 24, of 2323 Mt. Zion Ave., Janesville, to five years in prison and five years on extended supervision and ordered him to pay $8,051 in restitution. Buker said she expected Lopez would be deported after his prison sentence.
Lopez pleaded guilty in October to felony hit-and-run resulting in death. In exchange, charges of homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle, causing death while driving with a revoked license and domestic battery were dismissed as part of a plea agreement.
After the crash, passersby tended to Griffith while a witness followed Lopez as he drove east, southeast, north, west, down a dead end, exited his vehicle, got into a second vehicle and later a third vehicle, Buker said. Police arrested Lopez, who said he left the scene because he was scared.
Lopez was not intoxicated or impaired; it was his character that led him to run, Buker said. He previously had been convicted of hitting an occupied vehicle and fleeing the scene.
“He had the opportunity to learn that we have laws against speeding and hitting other vehicles and running away,” she said. “Mr. Miguel Lopez thinks that what he wants matters, and the rights and the safety of others don’t matter.”
Griffith, 45, Janesville, died about a month after the crash.
Lopez said through a translator Wednesday that he was very sorry, and he never intended to cause any harm.
“I fled because I was afraid,” he said in Spanish. “I didn’t have a driver’s license, and I’m illegal.
“I feel very bad about what happened. I want to ask forgiveness,” he said.
Lopez wiped his eyes as he asked for forgiveness from Griffith’s family.
“I hope they can understand,” he said.
Dressed in orange jail clothes, Lopez sat with his head down during the sentencing.
Griffith’s father and one of two brothers in attendance told the court how difficult the situation—including the month Griffith was in a coma—has been on their family. They requested the maximum sentence.
“This is the second senseless act that he has experienced,” Todd Griffith said of his brother.
More than two decades before the fatal crash, Griffith suffered severe head injuries when he was mugged, his brother said. He spent the rest of his life dealing with those injuries, which left him with severe paranoia, he said. At times, he became distant from his family.
Griffith was starting to get his life back together and contacted his family the Christmas before his death.
“And then another senseless act happens again,” Todd Griffith said. “This was no accident, your honor. When a person drives recklessly through an intersection at 50 mph, bad things are going to happen.
“For every day you give him behind bars, it’s another day he doesn’t come back here and do this to your family, to yours, or to yours,” he said pointing. “He’s a bad person.”