A man who fell asleep while drunk with a lit cigarette in his hand, sparking a fire in a Rancho Bernardo condominium that killed his two children, was convicted Monday of two counts of involuntary manslaughter and other charges.
Henry Lopez, 39, was also convicted of two counts of child endangerment and one count of reckless fire starting. His attorney argued during the trial there was no evidence a cigarette caused the Oct. 28, 2017, fire that killed his 7-year-old daughter Isabella and 10-year-old son Cristos.
He faces up to 14 years in prison when he is sentenced Oct. 15.
Deputy District Attorney Kyle Sutterley said during the trial that Lopez got drunk following an argument with his girlfriend, fell asleep and ignited a blaze in his bed.
The prosecutor alleges that Lopez, upon waking to find the condo ablaze around 3:15 a.m., went past the children’s bedrooms on his way down the stairs and punched out a first-floor window to try to escape the flames.
He then went back upstairs and started pounding on the walls, then passed out from the smoke at the top of the stairs, where firefighters later found him, Sutterley said.
According to the prosecutor, Cristos walked into his father’s burning bedroom, laid down on the floor and died of burns to more than 80 percent of his body. Isabella went into her brother’s room, laid down on the bottom bunk bed and “fortunately never woke up” after passing out due to smoke inhalation, Sutterley said.
Defense attorney Paul Neuharth Jr. argued it was more likely that his client’s iPhone 6 caused the blaze while it was charging beneath Lopez’s pillow.
Neither cigarette butts, nor the phone, were found in the remnants of the blaze.
Sutterley said investigators located a drinking glass within the area where the fire started, which may have been used as a makeshift ashtray. Prosecutors say a similar glass filled with about 75 discarded cigarette butts was located in a trash can in the home’s garage. However, no cigarette butts were found inside the glass in the bedroom.
Neuharth told jurors there was no proof that a lit cigarette started the fire, with the only evidence of smoking inside the home coming from the defendant’s ex-wife, Nikia, who said she once witnessed him smoking marijuana in his bed.
Lopez told investigators he only smoked on his outside patio and never inside the house, particularly due to his son’s asthma.
Updated at 2:32 p.m. Sept. 16, 2019
— City News Service