San Diego

Trial Begins for Dad Accused in Deadly Rancho Bernardo Condo Fire

Henry Lopez is accused of falling asleep drunk on Oct. 28, 2017, with a lit cigarette in his mouth, which led to a fire in his condominium that killed his two children, Isabella Lopez, 7, and Cristos Lopez, 10

The trial began Wednesday for a father accused of drinking himself to sleep before a fire ignited at his two-story Rancho Bernardo condo, leading to the death of his two children.

Isabella Lopez, 7, and Cristos Lopez, 10, were asleep when a fire broke out at their father's two-story condo on Bernardo Terrace in Rancho Bernardo around 3:15 a.m. on Oct. 28, 2017. Both children were killed in the blaze. 

Their father, Henry Lopez, was charged with five felonies in connection with their deaths, including involuntary manslaughter, child endangerment and the reckless starting of a fire. He pleaded not guilty to all charges in December 2018.

Henry Lopez sat in court as opening statements were made. The district attorney, Kyle Sutterley said he intends to prove Lopez drank himself to sleep, with a cigarette in his mouth, which started the fire.

The defense attorney, Paul Neuharth, said there is no evidence that Lopez was smoking inside his bedroom. He said he intends to prove Lopez' iPhone and an off-brand charger ignited while he was sleeping on his bed, and that ignited the bed, along with the rest of the house.

In court, the defense said the 10-year-old boy's body was found inside his father’s room, burned to death. The 7-year-old girl was found dead on the bottom bunk bed of her brother’s room.

The defense said Isabella used to sneak into her brother’s room late at night when she was scared of the dark -- which is why she was in there that fatal night.

According to District Attorney prosecutors, Henry Lopez had passed out from drinking alcohol while smoking a cigarette just before the blaze sparked. They argued Lopez failed to protect and save his two young children.

At his preliminary hearing in February 2018, prosecutors said his blood-alcohol level was 0.26 percent when it was taken at the hospital.

The children’s mother, Nikia Lopez, said she once caught Lopez smoking a marijuana cigarette in his bed.

His attorney, however, claimed Lopez never smoked cigarettes inside the house and only on his bedroom balcony. In addition, his attorney claimed the Metro Arson Strike Team investigating the fire was lying and the fire could’ve been started by a cellphone charger on his bed.

Nikia Lopez also said that when she had breast cancer Lopez would take care of her and then drink himself to sleep and vomit on himself.

The case was supposed to go to trial in November 2018, but there were delays in court proceedings.

If convicted, Henry Lopez could face 14 years in prison.

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