A 25-year-old man was sentenced Friday to 30 years to life in prison for a police pursuit that killed a pedestrian in Los Alamitos three years ago.
Azael Yovani Gonzales Mendoza was convicted in March of last year of second-degree murder in the March 11, 2020, collision that killed 71-year-old Richard Manuel Lopez, a transient, who was sleeping outside a pharmacy when he was struck by the car Mendoza was driving, according to prosecutors.
Just after midnight, Mendoza led Cypress police on a high-speed chase that reached speeds exceeding 100 mph, Senior Deputy District Attorney Dan Feldman said in a trial brief.
Earlier that evening, Mendoza and three others were in a Honda Accord around the Lincoln Center Mobile Home Park in Cypress when they got into a fender-bender about 11:50 p.m., Feldman said.
When the other driver, April Cortez, got out of her car to exchange information, the Honda’s motorist got out and ran away, Feldman said.
Mendoza got behind the wheel and drove away with two passengers in the car, Feldman said, adding that Cortez chased after the car and phoned in the license plate to a 911 dispatcher.
Mendoza drove away so fast that he outran a Cypress police officer, but a Los Alamitos officer picked up the pursuit a short time later, Feldman said.
Mendoza lost control while negotiating a left turn from southbound Bloomfield Street onto Katella Avenue, careened over the sidewalk and into a commercial building, where he slammed into a slumbering Lopez.
A good Samaritan restrained the defendant until police arrived while the others in the car ran away, Feldman said. Lopez was sleeping outside the C&H Pharmacy at 4012 Katella Ave., police said.
Feldman said Mendoza initially lied to police, but later admitted he was the driver during the pursuit and that earlier he had downed five or six beers and tests showed that he had methamphetamine in his system.
Feldman argued that Mendoza was found to have been the “major contributor” of genetic material on the car’s airbag in DNA tests. He argued that 95% of the DNA on the airbag came from Mendoza.
Mendoza testified during the trial that he was in the back seat on the passenger side during the pursuit and that he was catapulted forward to the front seat to explain how his DNA ended up on the air bag.
The punishment for second-degree murder is 15 years to life in prison, but Mendoza’s term was doubled because he had a prior strike. He pleaded guilty in May of 2016 to carjacking, false imprisonment and leading police on a chase, all felonies.
In that case Mendoza was going to be driven to a meeting with his probation officer when he refused to go, grabbed his mother’s keys and later led police in a chase with his younger sister in the vehicle, prosecutors said. Mendoza also pleaded guilty to a felony count of car theft and misdemeanor charges of vandalism and aggravated trespass in May of 2017.