Louisville man convicted of murder in Seneca Park golf cart crash

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A Louisville man who was allegedly drunk when he crashed into a golf cart near Seneca Park in 2019, killing one person and injuring another, was found guilty on Friday of murder and other offenses after an emotional four-day trial.

The August 11, 2019 crash killed Christopher Schulz, 45, a married father of three, and injured Brian Hovekamp, ​​who was driving the cart at 2300 Pee Wee Reese Road near the Seneca Golf Course clubhouse.​​​​​

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Lazaro Pozo Illas, 32, had been charged following the crash on one count of murder, one count of first-degree assault, two counts of first-degree wanton endangerment, one count of driving a motor vehicle under the influence of substances intoxicants and a count of driving a motor vehicle without a driver’s license.

After about three hours of deliberation on Friday, the jury found Pozo Illas guilty on all of those counts.

Tests showed his blood alcohol level was 0.16%, twice the legal limit, police said. He was driving his friend’s Ford Mustang at 53 mph just before the crash, and the posted speed limit in that area is 25 mph, prosecutors and officers said.

His public defender, Michael Lemke, said during oral argument Friday that Pozo Illas is a “sad and broken man” who had no intention of causing a fatal accident but admits he made mistakes.

The jury was also asked to consider lesser alternative charges, including one count of second degree manslaughter, one count of second degree assault and two counts of second degree wanton endangerment.

The charges of wanton assault and endangerment involved Hovekamp and two friends who were riding in the Mustang with Pozo Illas.

Jefferson Circuit Judge Angela McCormick Bisig had denied the defense’s attempt to present the jury with a charge of lesser reckless homicide.

The case moved immediately to the penalty phase.

Prosecutors recommended a 30-year sentence to the jury – 20 years for the murder charge and 10 years for the assault charge, while the defense asked for the minimum sentence of 20 years.

The jury agreed with prosecutors and recommended a 30-year sentence, with a one-year sentence on each count of gratuitous endangerment and a total of 120 days in jail for the two driving offenses at the same time. time than the recommended sentence of 30 years.

Under Kentucky law, a person driving a motor vehicle is guilty of murder if he drives “in circumstances showing extreme disregard for human life”.

Pozo Illas will appear again on August 10 for the formal sentencing hearing.

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Murder is a capital offense in Kentucky that can also result in a 20 to 50 year sentence or life in prison, but Pozo Illas did not face the death penalty in the case.

The charge of manslaughter that the jury could have considered instead of murder carries only five to ten years in prison.

Pozo Illas, who court documents say has a home address in Louisville and moved from Cuba to Kentucky about two years before the accident, wore a headset to receive Spanish translation services in the courtroom during the trial.

Pozo Illas had no serious criminal history and had worked in Kentucky for several years to support a girl and her family in Cuba, according to court documents.

Represented by public defenders, he showed little emotion and did not testify.

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“He’s human like all of us, and his moral weight is heavy,” Lemke said, arguing that the golf cart suddenly appeared in the crosswalk and that Pozo Illas is not a “murderer.”

Deputy Commonwealth Prosecutor Justin Janes again showed the jury the surveillance video that captured the accident and its aftermath during his closing argument on Friday, calling it the most important piece of evidence.

Janes urged jurors to consider all of the factors involved in the accident as “multipliers” that prove “indiscriminate” driving.

“When you put it all together, there’s no other way to describe the conduct that day than (as) extreme,” Janes said.

Schulz was ejected from the golf cart after the crash and taken to University of Louisville Hospital, where the Jefferson County Coroner’s Office said he died of multiple blunt injuries.

Schulz’s friend Hovekamp suffered multiple injuries after landing on the road, and he continues to receive treatment.

Hovekamp testified Thursday during the third day of the trial that his last memory was of getting in the golf cart and talking with Schulz before they finally prepared to go to the 10th hole.

“I don’t remember the collision,” Hovekamp said.

Christopher Schulz (left) was killed while riding in a crashed golf cart on August 11, 2019, near Seneca Park on Pee Wee Reese Road in Louisville, Kentucky.

A tenser moment came when one of Pozo Illas’ public defenders, Lemke, repeatedly asked Hovekamp if he felt he had the right to cross the road.

Hovekamp became emotional under the more aggressive questioning, reiterating that he did not recall driving towards the crosswalk but that “I would not have approached the road and tried to cross without looking “.

Hovekamp said his earliest memory after the crash was of “someone standing over me saying, ‘Don’t move’ and that I had been in an accident”.

Hovekamp, ​​a commodity broker with a wife and children, later recalled being in the emergency room and later going to a rehabilitation center for several days.

He described the staples in his head and broken ribs, a broken hip, a shoulder and elbow injury, nerve damage under his left knee and a fractured neck that would later require emergency surgery from the months after his initial discharge from the hospital.

“I’m still in pain,” Hovekamp testified. “…I still feel pain in my back. I can’t run. I don’t have full feeling under my left knee.”

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Prosecutors wrote in pre-trial court documents that Pozo Illas and his friends “started drinking early in the afternoon at a barbecue.”

“There are different accounts of the amount of alcohol (Pozo Illas) consumed, but by his own admission to police he drank an entire bottle of Hennessey,” Janes wrote in a May 19 filing. “Later that day, wanting more liquor for the barbeque, the accused drove a red Ford Mustang and drove to a nearby liquor store with two friends to purchase more liquor. alcohol.”

After heading to Bowman Field Liquors, Pozo Illas drove with his friends to Seneca Park on Pee Wee Reese Road before hitting the golf cart, which was in a “well-defined crosswalk with a yellow golf cart crossing a road sign,” prosecutors said.

Lazaro Pozo Illas

The fatal crash was captured via surveillance footage from the golf course “and clearly shows the golf cart was inside the crosswalk at the time of the collision,” Janes previously wrote in court papers. .

Jurors also saw body camera footage showing officers finding a crate of Corona beer bottles in the weeds next to the inactive Mustang. Officers also described finding cans of Miller Lite beer inside the vehicle.

The defense, on the other hand, argued during and before trial that “the yellow diamond-shaped sign with the golf cart logo was not a sign of proper performance.”

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Schulz was remembered after his death as a devout Catholic who was active with his church, St. Albert the Great.

His widow, Kelly Walters Schulz, testified Thursday that “Chris was very strong, faithful, loving and kind”, and that the couple had been married for 21 years.

He was a Certified Life and Career Coach who founded and led Parent to thrive, which aims to help parents “discover how to thrive by leading the growth and success of their school- and college-aged children,” according to its website.

Schulz also helped young people develop their leadership skills as the founder of the Emerging Leader Academy and helped start and then lead the Louisville Young Professionals Association Emerging Leaders Program for 5.5 years while also working in talent development for Humana.

His widow then filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Pozo Illas as well as the liquor store that allegedly served liquor to the driver, the friend and owner of the Mustang who lent it to Pozo Illas, the golf course professional who operates the course and Metro Public Works. employees.

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She said she learned of the accident when Hovekamp’s wife called her while she was driving two of her children to a volleyball game at Sacred Heart Academy.

“They knew Brian was conscious,” she recalls crying. “But nobody would say anything about Chris.”

Contact Billy Kobin at [email protected]