PHOENIX – After smoking a blunt of marijuana, 19-year-old Robert Joseph Lopez (D.O.B. 7/15/1995) got behind the wheel of a Saturn sedan and took four passengers on a reckless, high speed ride on Interstate 10 before losing control of the car and crashing, causing multiple injuries and the death of 16-year-old Devonna Nicole Crouch. Lopez subsequently waived his right to a trial and pled guilty to second degree murder and aggravated assault. Today, Judge Warren Granville ordered Lopez to serve ten years in the Arizona Department of Corrections followed by five years of intensive probation.
“The risk of killing or injuring other people was clearly not enough to deter this Defendant from making the staggeringly stupid decision to drive while impaired by marijuana,” said Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. “We can only hope that the shattered lives his selfishness has left behind will convince others not to make the same tragic and senseless choice.”
Shortly after 5:00 a.m. on Friday, December 12, 2014, Vehicular Crimes investigators with the Arizona Department of Safety responded to the scene of a one vehicle collision in the eastbound traffic lanes of Interstate 10 at milepost 155. One of the responding officers reported smelling the odor of burnt marijuana coming from inside the vehicle, a Saturn four-door sedan. Based on evidence at the scene, investigators determined that the Saturn had been travelling eastbound in the number two traffic lane east of the Baseline Road exit when the driver lost control of the car, sending it into a counter clockwise rotation. The Saturn collided with the base of an overhead freeway light pole mounted within the concrete median jersey barrier. During this impact, Devonna Nicole Crouch’s head exited the left rear window and struck a large bolt installed to secure the light pole to the top surface of the concrete barrier. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
The vehicle then deflected off the barrier and returned to the eastbound traffic lanes, continuing to rotate counter-clockwise until coming to an uncontrolled stop facing northeast. Tire friction marks on the roadway spanned over 600 feet and indicated an extremely high rate of speed during the incident. The driver of the vehicle, Robert Lopez, and three other passengers were transported to Chandler Regional Hospital with multiple injuries. A witness in another vehicle who was driving in the High Occupancy Vehicle lane with his cruise control set at 80 miles per hour estimated that the Saturn was travelling in excess of 100 miles per hour as it crisscrossed multiple lanes and in between other vehicles before striking the median barrier. Information obtained from the Saturn’s Crash Data Retrieval unit showed the vehicle travelling at 107 miles per hour ten seconds prior to the crash and 99 miles per hour two seconds prior to the crash.
When interviewed by detectives at the hospital, Lopez made confused and random statements and demonstrated rebound dilation of his pupils and raised taste buds on his tongue. He had burn marks on his fingertips and told detectives he had smoked a blunt of marijuana before midnight that night. A drug test indicated Lopez had 11 ng/ml of THC in his blood less than an hour after the crash. Lopez told detectives he was trying to obtain a medical marijuana card, but had not done so. A check of driving records showed that Lopez did not have an Arizona driver’s license and that he was on probation for a previous felony conviction for possession of burglary tools.
On December 19, 2014, Lopez was indicted by a Grand Jury on one count of second degree murder, one count of aggravated assault and three counts of endangerment. “In a stunning second you changed the lives of five different people and you ended the life of one young woman,” said Judge Granville before imposing today’s sentence. “It was a series of stupid decisions that brought you here today.”