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Daily News of Los Angeles (CA)
July 3, 1994
Author: Jane Meredith Adams McClatchy News Service
The five Lopez children wandered around their kitchen Wednesday, over the spot on the faded linoleum where last week their mother had fallen, fatally stabbed by their father.
There wasn’t a moment for grief to move in as they hurried past the spot beside it, where their father had been forced to lie in handcuffs before he was taken to a hospital jail ward where he died two days later. There were arrangements to be made for a double funeral in Half Moon Bay, San Mateo County, and a grandmother from Mexico, dressed in black, to make comfortable in their modest yellow farmhouse at the end of a dirt road.
And there was a story to tell: This domestic tragedy was not the culmination of years of abuse but a bizarre incident triggered, they believe, by their father’s medications, which included the antiviral drug interferon and the antidepressant Prozac.
“The effect of the medicine played a big role, which may only be understood by the family,” said Tony Lopez, 21, the second oldest child and a construction worker who lived at home. “He never got violent to the point of picking up a knife or picking up anything or even hitting my mom.”
On June 23, 12-year-old Cathy Lopez dialed 911, hysterically screaming, ”Daddy’s stabbing Mommy.” As 9-year-old Ruben watched the horror unfold, Cathy made an effort to save her mother, grabbing an unloaded rifle and knocking her father unconscious. It is not known what triggered the violence.
At the time, the incident seemed yet another example of domestic violence, an issue receiving national attention as ex-football star O.J. Simpson faces charges in the deaths of his ex-wife, Nicole, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.
But family and friends say that Luis Lopez Sr., 51, a farm laborer who illegally emigrated from Mexico in 1980 with his family, never hit his 43- year-old wife, Maria Elena, nor raised his voice in rage. He is remembered for his trademark Stetson hat, for trips to church with his wife at Our Lady of the Pillar in Half Moon Bay and for joining his family in saying the rosary every night before bed.
“Both of them were very Christian, very friendly,” said Salvadore Navarro, a neighbor who taught the couple basic English. “They always walked together.”
The San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department said it had not received any domestic violence calls from the home before last week.
“They never really had any major arguments,” said daughter Martha, 17, a Half Moon Bay High School honor student who plans to attend the University of California, Davis, in the fall.
Instead, the children describe the unraveling of their father’s personality in the last month after he began taking a concoction of medicines to treat depression and hepatitis C, a fatal virus that affects the liver and kidneys. They watched in alarm as their father tore at a small rip in his shirt because his clothes felt uncomfortable, said Tony. They saw him looking under the bed for no reason, falling back in his chair erratically and losing concentration while driving.
They were afraid to leave him alone, said Martha.
“One or two times, Martha said, ‘My dad’s acting unusual,’ or ‘My dad’s acting weird,’ ” said Sharla Smith, who supervised Martha at her job as a peer counselor at Planned Parenthood of San Mateo County. “She wouldn’t say anything else.”
According to medical records, San Mateo County Coroner Bud Moorman said Luis Sr. had prescriptions for interferon; the antidepressants trazodone, Amitriptyline and Prozac; the tranquilizers Xanax and Xantac; and the anti- inflammatory Voltaren. It is not known if he was taking all of them simultaneously, and their effect on the killing is under investigation.
Prozac has come under scrutiny because of reputed links to violent behavior and suicide in some cases. Luis Sr. died June 25 in a hospital jail ward from multiple complications caused by hepatitis C, according to the coroner’s report. His wife died shortly after the stabbing.
The family has been under inordinate pressure since they came across the border. First they lived in a station wagon in the San Mateo County community of San Gregorio. Then Luis Sr. got a job cutting redwood trees, only to be injured when a tree fell and broke his leg in four places.
Last October, a sixth child, Maria, 22, died after a failed bone-marrow transplant from her sister Cathy and a two-year struggle with leukemia. Luis Sr. injured his back last year at the flower ranch where he and his wife worked. Because of the back injury and his hepatitis, he was unable to work.
Then this spring, the children’s mother, Maria Elena, injured her back at the flower ranch. The pain was so great that “even as she lay on the floor when she was dying, she told me to tell the paramedics her back was hurting her too much,” said Martha Lopez.
Although the family had gained legal residency status, Luis Sr. had begun to talk about returning to Mexico to die. Around the kitchen, cardboard fruit boxes full of possessions are stacked, ready for the move he was planning.
The children don’t intend to follow their father’s plan to return to Mexico. They hope to buy a mobile home in El Granada, San Mateo County, to stay together.
A fund for the children has been set up at the Bank of America in Half Moon Bay. A fund for Martha’s education has been established in care of Planned Parenthood of San Mateo County.
Record Number: 9401280268