Guilty verdict withheld in Miami Heat dancer death trial

Judge, attorney for Mario Careaga question jurors amid allegations of misconduct

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - A man accused of causing a crash that killed a 22-year-old Miami Heat dancer in 2010 has been found guilty, but the verdict is being withheld while the court investigates allegations of juror misconduct.

Mario Careaga, 46, was convicted Wednesday on both counts of DUI manslaughter in the Sept. 10, 2010, crash that killed Nancy Lopez-Ruiz, who was on her motorcycle when she was struck by Careaga's Mercedes Benz.

Jurors began deliberating Tuesday afternoon and reached a verdict shortly before 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Careaga was handcuffed and taken into custody immediately after the verdict was read.

A short time later, Judge Illona Holmes instructed the jurors to return to the jury room while she and defense attorney Dave Bogenschutz questioned each juror in the courtroom individually, concerned the verdict could be tainted.

At issue is whether the jury of six men made remarks about Careaga's gay lifestyle that could have influenced their decision.

Careaga testified in his own defense Monday that he only had two alcoholic drinks while attending an event at the Galleria in Fort Lauderdale earlier that evening, although surveillance video from stores at the mall shows him walking around with a drink in his hand.

Police said Careaga's blood-alcohol level was nearly three times the state legal limit of .08 percent.

Bogenschutz called the fatal crash an accident.

However, assistant state attorney Kristin MacKenzie told jurors that alcohol impaired his driving on the night in question.

Careaga said he wasn't paying attention to what was in front of him because he was focused on the headlights that were fast approaching in his rear-view mirror.

Lopez-Ruiz was about to begin her first season as a Miami Heat dancer when she was killed.

Bogenschutz filed a motion for a mistrial.

Careaga was released from custody.

Holmes, Careaga and attorneys for both sides are expected back in court Thursday morning.

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