Johnston County

DA rules on NC trooper who fatally shot suspect during Clayton chase

A state trooper will not be charged after shooting and killing a fleeing driver who weaved through traffic in a stolen tow truck and fired a shotgun at officers, Johnston County District Attorney Susan Doyle said Wednesday.

N.C. Highway Patrolman Joshua Kiser joined a chase on U.S. 70 West outside Clayton as other officers pursued a man who reportedly had stolen a tow truck in Smithfield and tried to ram several cars across Johnston County during the escape, Doyle wrote in a two-page decision.

As the driver, later identified as Enrique L. Lopez, drew close to Clayton in rush-hour traffic, Kiser and a second trooper began their pursuit.

Lopez fired five or six shots at them out the driver’s side window, Doyle wrote.

Kiser returned fire with his patrol rifle, firing 11 shots as they drove. A Clayton police laid “stop sticks” across the highway, and the fleeing car veered into the median and flipped over after hitting a tree.

An autopsy later showed Lopez had died of two gunshot wounds that hit his liver, lung and pancreas.

Officers must often make split-second decisions regarding their use of force,” Doyle wrote. “Under the circumstances observed by Trooper Kiser, his use of force was both reasonable and warranted. Lopez presented an imminent threat of death or serious physical injury to officers and other individuals on the highway unless apprehended as soon as possible.”

Girlfriend found dead

One day after the fatal chase, police discovered a 28-year-old woman dead outside her home in Smithfield. Alanda Mae Abarca was Lopez’s girlfriend, police said, and the couple had two children.

On July 1, a tow-truck driver called to report his vehicle had been taken from Paul Auto Sales in Smithfield. The driver, Austin Timothy Britt, told dispatchers he had a loaded shotgun inside.

Lopez drove south on Interstate 95, Doyle wrote, then exited in Four Oaks, where a town police officer spotted him. The fugitive truck then crossed the center line and tried to strike the officer, Doyle wrote, then did so again trying to hit a sheriff’s deputy’s car. Lopez continued swerving through traffic trying to collide with cars.

State law, Doyle wrote, “authorizes a law enforcement officer to use deadly force upon another person to defend himself or a third person from what the officer reasonably believes to be the imminent use of deadly physical force.”

Josh Shaffer covers Wake County and federal courts. He has been a reporter for The News & Observer since 2004 and previously wrote a column about unusual people and places.