Trial kicks off for Tyler man accused in fatal driving death

The defense attorney, Kurt Noell, said the crash into the chain link fence and the way it injured and killed the victim was a “freak occurrence.”
Published: Jan. 31, 2023 at 11:57 AM CST|Updated: Feb. 3, 2023 at 6:31 PM CST
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TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - A jury trial began this week for a Tyler man who is accused of leaving a man to die after the defendant crashed through a fence in January 2021.

Juan Jesus Juarez, 24, is charged with accident involving death. He was the driver in a wreck near the intersection of West Queen Street and North Tenneha Avenue on Jan. 23, 2021. Juarez was heading south on Tenneha Avenue when he crashed through a fence and into the backyard of a home. Marco Antonio Lopez Penado was found dead in the back seat. Two people were seen running away from the scene. Police later found Juarez at his home after they looked up the address on his vehicle.

Trial continues for Tyler man accused in fatal driving death

In opening arguments Tuesday, the state made the argument that Juarez was out partying and drinking. He had been to house parties and was seem driving away after he had been drinking.

The state described gruesome details of the crash and what the victim suffered and said Juarez ran away “like a coward.”

The state said Juarez tried to claim his car was stolen. He had blood on his forearm and under his nails despite trying to wash his hands. They also said Juarez called the victim’s father and lied about the car being stolen.

The state said Juarez left the victim for dead and only cared about covering up his own tracks.

The defense attorney, Kurt Noell, said the crash into the chain link fence and the way it injured and killed the victim was a “freak occurrence.”

Noell said they aim to prove that Juarez did not fail to give reasonable aid because no aid could reasonably be given to someone with such a drastic injury.

Noell said Juarez acted negligently but that this was not a survivable injury.

A woman who lives near the crash site was the first witness. She said she called emergency responders when she heard a boom. Said she only saw two people running away through a peephole.

A Smith County Sheriff’s Office deputy said Juarez told him his vehicle was missing and he had tracked it down but did not say how. The deputy said Juarez said he punched a hole in the window on the vehicle and that was why his knuckle was injured.

The state then called a Tyler police detective who uses special technology to map the crash area. He said the car was skidding along the yard until it hit the trees. He said the car was going at least 51 mph once it hit the curb and entered the yard. The speed limit in the area was 30 mph.

Noell asked the detective about if the curb would affect the vehicle’s speed. The officer said it would affect the speed.

The state then showed a photo of an alcohol bottle in the vehicle. They also showed photos of blood on Juarez’s hands and forearm and under his fingernails.

The state’s next witness was a forensic scientist from Garland to testify via Zoom call. She explained how DNA testing works and gave details on the DNA test results based on swabs of cups and blood samples taken from the vehicle.

The state then called Uriah Actopan to the stand. Actopan was at one of the house parties attended by Juarez that night of the incident. He said they began drinking around 8 p.m., consuming vodka and beer. Acotpan said he saw Juarez drinking vodka from a 750ml bottle shared with others.

Actopan was originally going to take Penado home before leaving to work the midnight shift at his job. Actopan testified that Juarez volunteered to take Penado home since Penado wanted to stay. Actopan said later the following morning Juarez told him Penado tried to steal his car.

The state then called Julian Cruz to the stand.

Cruz said he and Juarez have been friends for a few years. He said he was with Juarez on night of incident. Cruz said they initially were at his house hanging out and drinking. This was not initially intended to be a party, he said, but it turned into one after more people arrived. Cruz said he saw Juarez drinking.

Cruz testified that he and Juarez went to a different house party later with Juarez driving them there in Juarez’s Toyota Avalon. They drank more at the new location, he said.

After their time at the second house party, Cruz said he rode again with Juarez, this time in the lead up to the crash. He said Juarez was driving fast, driving through stop signs. Then the crash happened. When asked why he ran from the crash site, Cruz said he knew he was in pre-trial for his alleged involvement in a drug case and he was not allowed to be around alcohol.

Cruz said he told police he wasn’t involved with the crash. He said he may have told police he asked his girlfriend to pick him up.

Cruz was not arrested or charged in relation to this incident.

The defense asks Cruz if he remembers what shoes he was wearing that night as a pair of Nike sandals were found at the scene. Cruz says he doesn’t remember.

Court is then adjourned for the day.