Fort Worth man arrested in fatal hit-and-run

04/23/2014 2:30 PM

04/23/2014 2:31 PM

More than 10 months after a 20-year-old waiter was struck by a pickup and killed by a driver who fled the scene, a Fort Worth man has been charged in the case.

Ernesto Arreguin, a suspect in the case from early on, was charged Tuesday with fleeing an accident involving death, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Arreguin, 25, is accused of running over Elio Mena-Lopez in front of the Fuzzy’s Taco Shop in the 2700 block of Race Street shortly after 4 a.m. on June 16.

Police have said Mena-Lopez, who lived in the area just north of downtown, was intoxicated when he tried to flag down a white four-door car while walking on Race Street.

Video surveillance from a nearby bar showed Mena-Lopez wave his arms at the car and run into the car’s passenger side before falling onto the street.

The driver of the car, possibly a Nissan, swerved after the collision but never stopped.

At least four other vehicles passed by as Mena-Lopez, who suffered minor injuries in the collision, tried unsuccessfully to get up from the roadway. Three minutes later, the video shows a red double-cab Chevy pickup running over Mena-Lopez.

Although neither driver stopped, police have said that both vehicles drove back by the scene, indicating that they knew they had hit someone.

A suspect from the start

The red pickup, according to witnesses, sped by so fast that a paramedic shouted at the driver to slow down. The driver, according to a witness, stepped on the brakes before speeding away.

A woman pointed out to officials that it appeared to be the same pickup that had run over Mena-Lopez. Police put out a broadcast and tracked the pickup, pulling Arreguin over at a gas station at Interstate 35W and N.E. 28th Street.

Arreguin and his passenger denied hitting anyone or even driving down Race Street that night, police have said.

His truck was impounded, however, and he was arrested on an outstanding warrant for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon on accusations that he had assaulted his live-in girlfriend while armed with a knife. The assault case, however, was no-billed by a Tarrant County grand jury in November, court records show.

With no physical evidence linking Arreguin to Mena-Lopez’s death, Detective Lisa Sorrels kept on the case, even releasing images of the suspect vehicles to the media.

“At this point, it’s his word against mine,” Sorrels previously told the Star-Telegram. “ I suspect he did it but I can’t prove it yet.”

On Wednesday, Cpl. Tracey Knight said the case finally came together.

“Forensics played a part with evidence located on the scene as well as video surveillance footage,” Knight said in an email. “All the information that was painstakingly collected over months of work eventually led to an arrest warrant and justice for the victim.”

Arreguin was arrested April 14 and released from jail the next morning after posting a $5,000 bond, according to Tarrant County records.

He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

‘I never gave up hope’

Bettie Lykes considered Mena-Lopez, who had previously lived with her, a son. She rejoiced Wednesday about the arrest in the case.

“He was such a sweet person and I knew that God was going to see that justice was done someday,” Lykes said. “Someday it would be done.”

Lykes praised Sorrels for her hard work and determination.

“I never gave up hope. I never did,” she said. “I knew it was being worked, I never gave up on Lisa. She called my son once and told him, ‘Tell your mother that I will retire and still work on the case.’ ”

Lykes said she hopes the arrest brings her one step closer to finding peace.

“I’ll tell you what I’m looking for,” Lykes said. “I’m looking for a day that I don’t cry. I’m looking for a day when I can drive by the cemetery without pulling in there and putting some fresh flowers in his vase.”

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