General — 04 August 2015 — by Rowland A. Parks
Ravel Gonzalez, 37, guilty of causing 2 deaths by careless conduct

BELIZE CITY, Mon. Aug. 3, 2015–Today, a jury of 5 men and 4 women deliberated for less than three hours before returning into the courtroom of Supreme Court Justice John “Troadio “ Gonzalez to announce their unanimous guilty verdict against Ravel Gonzalez, 37, a Crown counsel in the Ministry of the Attorney General and a former United Democratic Party (UDP) mayor of Orange Walk Town, who was indicted on two counts of causing death by careless conduct.

On June 15, 2008, Gonzalez, who was the mayor of Orange Walk Town at the time of the accident, was driving his burgundy Dodge Caravan when he fatally injured Martina Lopez, a two-year-old, and Manuel Coto. The incident occurred between Miles 35 and 36 on the Philip Goldson Highway.

Ravel was heading from Belize City to his home on the San Antonio Road, in the Orange Walk District, when he accidentally knocked down Coto and Lopez. Coto was walking a bicycle with Lopez on it, when they were knocked down while in the company of three other family members on the highway.

Late this evening, Justice Gonzalez heard mitigation pleas from Ravel Gonzalez’s friend, the realtor Oscar Romero, and one of his two attorneys, Ellis Arnold, S.C, who both spoke well of him.

Justice Gonzalez imposed a fine of $4,000 for each of the two victims and $1,000 compensation to the family of Martina Lopez. The court did not offer any compensation to Coto’s family.

The judge gave Gonzalez until November 15, 2015 to pay all fines. If he defaults, he will have to serve a one year prison sentence for each count.

After the accident, baby Martina Lopez was found lying in the middle of the road, while Coto was found lying on the side of the road. Both of them had sustained head and body injuries.

Baby Lopez died on the way to the hospital, while Coto died on the spot.

Gonzalez was represented by attorneys Ellis Arnold, S.C., and Tricia Pitts-Anderson.

The Crown’s evidence was led by Crown Counsel Sheiniza Smith. Justice Gonzalez, in summing up the evidence for the jury, told them that careless conduct means driving without due care and attention to persons using the road.

“And the degree of carelessness is in the least act of carelessness; for example, taking one’s eyes off the road for a split second,” the judge explained to the jury.

In his defense, Gonzalez gave sworn testimony from the witness stand. He explained to the court that on the night when the accident occurred, he was driving his Dodge Caravan minivan and was heading from Belize City to his home in Orange Walk.

His wife was seated next to him in the passenger’s side and his two children were in the back seat.

Gonzalez testified that as he was approaching Mile 35, a vehicle coming from the opposite direction flashed its high beam lights in his direction, and that blinded him momentarily.

As the vehicle passed him, he saw three persons walking on the highway: a female was on the right hand side and a man was pushing a bicycle with a child on it, about four feet away from him.

Gonzalez told the court that when the high beam light was flashed at him, he decided to do two things – make an effort not to drift to his left to avoid colliding into an oncoming vehicle, and make sure he kept his vehicle on the highway.

As he recovered from the high beam lights, he stepped on his brakes, Gonzalez said. After the vehicle came to a stop, he said, he first checked to see if his wife and two children were alright, then he went outside to see who had been hit, and that’s when he saw the two persons on the highway.

He then took out his cell phone and dialed 911 and asked for an ambulance to be rushed to the accident.

Gonzalez explained that at the time of the accident, he was driving about 50 miles per hour and there was nothing he could do to avoid the accident after he was blinded by the high beam light of the other vehicle that had passed him.

Coto and the other three persons, which included the child’s mother, father and an elderly sister, are residents of Rhaburn Ridge and were all coming from a wake when the fatal accident occurred.

Lopez’s parents, Manuel Lopez and Martha Garcia, who were walking on the road at the time of the accident, both testified that Gonzalez was driving fast and that they were on the side of the road .

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