Breaking news: Driver sentenced to five years in hit-and-run death of Newport Beach cyclist

I’ve gotten confirmation from multiple sources that Michael Jason Lopez pleaded guilty today in the hit-and-run death of Newport Beach cyclist Dr. Catherine Campion-Ritz.

As you may recall, Campion-Ritz was the second of two cyclists killed in Newport Beach in just 24 hours last September, hit from behind as she rode with her husband in the bike lane on high-speed Newport Coast Drive. The driver fled the scene, leaving her critically injured in the street; she died later at a local hospital.

According to a press release from the OC District Attorney’s office, the Newport Beach Police Department used surveillance video to identify Lopez’ truck and determined that he was the driver, arresting him just three days after the collision.

Lopez accepted a plea deal for a single felony count of hit-and-run causing death and a misdemeanor count of vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence.

According to the press release, he will serve five years in state prison. However, another source indicates that Lopez will serve four years in state prison on the felony count — with the possibility of parole — followed by another year in county jail for the misdemeanor.

The death of the popular physician had a huge impact on her family, as the press release indicates.

Victim impact statements were submitted to the court by the victim’s mother, her husband, two brothers, and two sisters. The victim’s mother said in part, “Her death was a tragic loss for all of us. Without warning, she was gone and our lives will never be the same without her. I never expected to outlive my children, yet Kit is gone at 57 and I am still here at 87.”

The victim’s husband said in part, “Catherine was many things to many people; physician and leader in the medical community, business leader, a church lector, and family leader. To me she was my wife. She was my confidant, my partner in adventure, and my inspiration. There is an emptiness at home with no one to reminisce about [the] past, to discuss the day’s events or to make plans for the future. The activities we did together I typically now do alone or not at all.”

What the release doesn’t mention is the impact her death had on the larger community.

Along with the death of cyclist Sarah Leaf a day earlier, it inspired a massive rally and bike safety campaign that still reverberates today. As tragic as it is, we can honestly say her death wasn’t in vain, as it has lead to improvements in safety and enforcement that could help keep other riders alive.

Which, honestly, should be the result of every cyclist who falls on our streets.

Whether just five years, or potentially less, is justice in this case is subject to debate; Dr. Christopher Thompson got a similar sentence for merely maiming two riders, though his actions were intentional.

However, it is a lot more than the slap on the wrist too many hit-and-run killers get away with.

And it’s probably the best we could hope for without going to trial.

Thanks to Jeffrey Fylling and Ann for the heads-up. And thanks to the NBPB and Deputy DA Anna McIntire for bringing a killer to justice.

6 comments

  1. Judith Finneren says:

    This is so very sad and tragic! I certainly relate to Catherines spouse, as my husband was killed at age 57 in 2011 while riding his bicycle. The person who hit him got charged with a moving violation causing a death! 100 hours community service and 5 days in Jail! Let’s all work together and increase bicycle safety, driver awareness and get the laws changed. I just don’t understand why it appears to be ok to hit and kill a cyclist,,WHY?

    • Jeffrey Fylling says:

      Judith, I am saddened by your loss. It is NEVER OK to kill a cyclist – even though all we hear is MISDEMEANOR vehicular manslaughter. Time for the D.A. to know we will not put up with kind of treatment any longer. Support AB 956 by Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, it will allow the D.A. and Judges to add an additional 5 years for this type of “hit & run” killing.

      • Sadly, about the time you posted this, Assembly Member Mansoor pulled AB 956. His office said it was “dead in the water” as the Senate would not have voted to fund more prison space.

  2. billdsd says:

    Agree that it’s very sad. There’s nothing to feel good about here and I feel that the sentence is too light but it’s not as light as it could have been and usually is in cases like this, so I guess it’s closer to justice than usual. Real justice would be drivers driving more responsibly and not killing people.

  3. TQ says:

    The D.A.’s press release states that Lopez’s “prior strike” conviction was for a residential burglary twenty years ago?!? I freely admit a lack of solid comprehension of our convoluted sentencing laws, but this really doesn’t sound right.

    Lopez’s lengthy, official & publicly accessible record shows that yesterday he was sentenced to 365 days in jail for violating probation on two (much more recent) prior counts: driving on a suspended license & misdemeanor possession, both in 2011.

  4. paul livingston says:

    my heart goes out to the Campion-Ritz family.

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