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Immigrant not guilty in fatal crash
By Thor Jourgensen
Saturday, June 3, 2006

LYNN-A District Court jury found a Guatemalan immigrant who was in a fatal collision last year with a motorcyclist not guilty Friday, but the dead man's grandmother said questions should have been asked during the trial about Jose Lopes' driving skills.

"This was an illegal immigrant, unlicensed and not familiar with the rules of the road. We're very upset," Harriett Fromer said.

Lopes collided with Joshua Fromer last Aug. 23 at the intersection of Eastern and Waitt avenues. Witnesses said Lopes was turning onto Waitt when Fromer, 19, struck him, sending the motorcyclist airborne.

If convicted of motor vehicle homicide by negligent operation, Lopes, 26, could have been sentenced to 21/2 years in the Essex House of Correction.

He spent nine months in the Middleton jail awaiting trial after a District Court judge set $100,000 bail for Lopes when prosecutors expressed concern they might not be able to bring him to trial in Lynn if federal immigration officials sought to hold him in another facility.

At the time of Lopes' arrest, prosecutors said he admitted to being in the United States illegally.

Steve O'Connell, spokesman for District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, was not sure as of Friday if Lopes was living in the country legally.

Michael McDonald, Lopes' attorney, said the "INS (federal Immigration and Naturalization Service) has looked into his status."

Lopes pleaded guilty to not having a Massachusetts driver's license but McDonald said no evidence was presented during his trial on the motor vehicle homicide charge that driver training Lopes may or may not have received had any bearing on the collision.

Harriett Fromer believes information on Lopes' driving record "would have been a big factor in favor" of a guilty verdict against him.

Assistant District Attorney Michael Sheehan, pointing to testimony Lopes' did not signal his turn, told the jury Fromer's "death would not have occurred without the defendant's actions,"

"The accident was unavoidable for Mr. Fromer and avoidable for Mr. Lopes," he said.

McDonald told the jury Fromer's speed at the time of the accident - evidence indicated he was traveling nearly 70 miles per hour when he struck Lopes - caused the collision.

"Joshua Fromer was killed as a result of how he operated his motorcycle that day," McDonald said.

McDonald reminded jurors Friday that a witness who testified during Lopes' trial did not see Fromer approach the intersection. Another "never saw a motorcycle at all. She heard a loud noise and saw a body."

"If the motorcycle had been traveling at or near the speed limit, this accident would not have occurred," McDonald said.

Fromer's father, Jeffrey, and brother, Michael, wept as Sheehan recalled descriptions of Fromer's body following the accident "still warm to his mother's touch."

Lopes sat in front of them, listening through headphones to a Spanish translation of McDonald's and Sheehan's remarks to the jury.