Johnston County District Attorney Susan Doyle announced today (Wednesday), a state trooper who shot and killed a suspect during a high speed chase in Johnston County was legally justified in his use of force and will not face any charges.
On July 1, 2019, Trooper Joshua Kiser along with other law enforcement officers were pursuing a driver in a stolen tow truck on US 70 Business Highway West. During the vehicle pursuit, the tow truck driver later identified as Enrique L. Lopez, began shooting at the law enforcement officers with a shotgun. Trooper Kiser returned gunfire with his patrol rifle as the pursuit neared the city limits of Clayton. An officer from Clayton Police Department deployed stop sticks across the highway and Lopez ran over them deflating the tow truck’s tires. Afterwards, Lopez veered off the roadway and struck a tree. Lopez was pronounced dead at the scene.
The NC State Bureau of Investigation conducted an investigation into the fatal pursuit at the request of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol and the Johnston County District Attorney.
District Attorney Doyle released the following information:
On July 1, 2019, shortly after 4:00 p.m., Austin Timothy Britt called 911 to report that his tow truck had been stolen from Paul Auto Sales in Smithfield. Britt also advised the 911 dispatcher that there was a loaded Mossburg shotgun inside his tow truck when it was stolen. The suspect who stole the tow truck, later identified as Enrique L. Lopez, had also tried to steal another vehicle prior to stealing the tow truck. Lopez was then seen driving the tow truck southbound on I-95 in the northbound lanes. Lopez exited off into the town of Four Oaks where Lieutenant Timothy Lebow with the Four Oaks Police Department spotted Lopez driving the stolen tow truck. Lopez crossed the center line and drove into the opposite lane attempting to strike Lebow’s marked patrol vehicle. Lebow turned around, activated his emergency equipment, and began pursuing Lopez. During the pursuit, Lopez crossed the center line into the opposite lane of oncoming traffic attempting to strike a detective with the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office who was driving his law enforcement vehicle. Lopez attempted to strike other vehicles, ran several vehicles off the roadway, swerved in and out of his lane of travel, and threw miscellaneous items out of the tow truck.
Once Lopez turned left onto US 70 Business Highway West, Trooper Kiser and Trooper Douglas joined the vehicle pursuit. Lopez pointed the shotgun out of his driver’s side window and fired it at the law enforcement officers approximately 5-6 times. Kiser grew very concerned about Lopez firing his weapon and continuing to drive recklessly as they were soon approaching Clayton town limits with rush hour traffic. At that point, Kiser performed a threat assessment and determined that Lopez was a moving threat, that Lopez had a shotgun in the vehicle and had fired upon Kiser and other law enforcement officers, that innocent people driving on US 70 Business Highway could be harmed if Lopez was not stopped before he entered the congested traffic situation in Clayton town limits. Kiser then retrieved his patrol rifle and began shooting at Lopez. Trooper Kiser fired a total of 11 rounds. As Kiser and Lopez approached Clayton town limits, a Clayton Police officer successfully deployed stop sticks. The tow truck then veered into the traffic median into the eastbound lane, traveled through a field, and overturned after striking a large tree. Lopez was pronounced dead at the scene. An autopsy revealed that Lopez died as a result of two gunshot wounds to his back that punctured his liver, right lung, and pancreas. Lopez also suffered a broken right arm and fractured skull.
North Carolina General Statute 15A-401(d)(2) 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 or to effect an arrest…of a person who…by his conduct or any other means indicates that he presents an imminent threat of death or serious physical injury to others, unless apprehended without delay. Officers must often make split-second decisions regarding their use of force. 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. The threat level that Lopez presented was escalating the closer he got to Clayton town limits. After a thorough review of the SBI report and meeting with the investigating officer, Assistant Special Agent in Charge J.T. Gibbs, I have concluded that Trooper Kiser was legally justified in his use of force. As a result, no criminal charges against Trooper Kiser will be filed related to this incident.
One day after the chase, on July 2nd, 2019, Smithfield Police found the body of Alanda Mae Abarca in the backyard of her home at 617 South Fourth Street in Smithfield. Police later said she died from multiple stab wounds. Her death was ruled a homicide. Abarca had been dating Enrique Lopez and the homicide occurred just blocks away from where the 26 year-old man stole the tow truck used in the high speed chase.
Police never publicly identified Lopez as the murder suspect but did say “no additional suspects are believed to be involved in this investigation.” Alanda Abarca was survived by four children, including two children with Lopez. Prior to his death, Lopez had been living with a family member on South Pollock Street in Selma and was employed as an asphalt worker.