LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A Louisville man who was allegedly drunk when he crashed into a golf cart by Seneca Park in 2019, killing one and injuring another, was found guilty Friday of murder and other offenses following an emotional four-day trial.
The Aug. 11, 2019, crash killed 45-year-old Christopher Schulz, a married father of three children, and injured his friend who was driving the cart.
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Lazaro Pozo Illas, 32, had been indicted following the crash on one count of murder, one count of first-degree assault, two counts of first-degree wanton endangerment, one count of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of intoxicants and one count of operating a motor vehicle without an operator’s license.
Following about three hours of deliberation Friday, the jury found Pozo Illas guilty on all of those counts.
The jury had also been asked to consider alternative, less severe charges, including one count of second-degree manslaughter, one count of second-degree assault and two counts of second-degree wanton endangerment.
Schulz was the passenger as his friend, Brian Hovekamp, drove the cart about 4 p.m. that day across the crosswalk at 2300 Pee Wee Reese Road by the Seneca Golf Course clubhouse when Pozo Illas hit the cart while speeding in his friend’s red Mustang, prosecutors and witnesses said.
The assault and wanton endangerment charges related to Hovekamp and the 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 a lesser reckless homicide charge to the 13-member jury, which included seven women and five men.
The case now moves into the penalty phase, which will end with a determined sentence for Pozo Illas.
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Under Kentucky statutes, a person operating a motor vehicle is guilty of murder if they drive “under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to human life.”
Murder is a capital offense in Kentucky that can also result in a punishment of between 20 to 50 years or life in prison, but Pozo Illas was not facing the death penalty in this case.
The manslaughter charge that the jury could have considered instead of murder only carries five to 10 years in prison.
The DUI and driving without a license offenses are misdemeanors that can result in fines and shorter stays in jail.
The first-degree wanton endangerment charge carries one to five years of imprisonment, while the first-degree assault charge is a Class B felony in Kentucky that can result in 10 to 20 years.
Pozo Illas, who court documents said has a Louisville home address and moved from Cuba to Kentucky about two years before the crash, wore a white, button-down shirt with the collar open, glasses and an earpiece to receive Spanish translation services in the courtroom during the trial.
Pozo Illas had no serious criminal history and had been working in Kentucky for several years to support a daughter and his family in Cuba, according to court documents.
Represented by public defenders, he showed little emotion and did not take the stand to testify during the trial.
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Pozo Illas was detained following the 2019 crash, and tests revealed he had a 0.16% blood alcohol content, which is two times the legal limit, police said.
Pozo Illas was driving 53 mph right before the crash, and the posted speed limit in that area is 25 mph, prosecutors and officers noted.
An LMPD Traffic Unit officer testified that Pozo Illas braked 1.4 seconds before the crash, with the car going 29 mph at the exact time of impact.
His public defender, Michael Lemke, told the jurors during closing arguments Friday that Pozo Illas is a “sorrowful and a broken man” who did not intend to cause a deadly crash that summer afternoon but recognizes he made mistakes.
“He is human like the rest of us, and his moral weight is heavy,” Lemke said, arguing the golf cart suddenly appeared in the crosswalk and that Pozo Illas is not a “murderer.”
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Justin Janes showed the surveillance video that captured the crash and its aftermath again to the jury during his closing argument Friday, calling it the most important piece of evidence.
Janes urged jurors to consider all of the factors involved in the crash as “multipliers” that prove “wanton” conduct.
“When you put them all together, there’s no other way to describe the conduct on that day than (as) extreme,” Janes said.
Schulz was thrown from the golf cart after the crash and taken to University of Louisville Hospital, where the Jefferson County Coroner’s Office said he would die that day from multiple blunt force injuries.
Schulz’s friend, Hovekamp, sustained several injuries after landing in 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 eventually prepared to move to the 10th hole.
“I don’t remember the collision,” Hovekamp said.
A tenser moment occurred when one of Pozo Illas’ public defenders, Lemke, repeatedly asked Hovekamp if he felt he had the right to drive across the road.
Hovekamp became emotional under the more aggressive questioning, reiterating he did not recall driving toward the crosswalk but that “I would not have approached the road and tried to cross without looking.”
Attorneys from both sides took several pauses to privately speak with the judge during Lemke’s questioning of Hovekamp.
Hovekamp said his first memory following the crash was of “somebody standing over me, telling me, ‘Do not move,’ and that I had been in an accident.”
Hovekamp, a commodities trader with a wife and children, then recalled being in the emergency room and later going to a rehab facility for several days.
He described the staples in his head and broken ribs, a broken hip, a shoulder and elbow injury, nerve damage beneath his left knee and a fracture in his neck that would later require emergency surgery months after he initially left the hospital.
“I’m still sore,” Hovekamp testified. “… I still feel pain in my back. I can’t run. I don’t have full sensation below my left knee.”
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During Wednesday’s portion of the trial, prosecutors also called to the witness stand the medical examiner who reviewed Schulz’s body the day after he died, with the doctor describing injuries to the man’s skull, neck and body. The jurors could see the location of each injury as the examiner pointed at a “wound chart.”
Prosecutors wrote in court documents leading up to the trial that Pozo Illas and his friends “began drinking early in the afternoon at a cookout.”
“There are different accounts of how much 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 in the day, wanting more alcohol for the cookout, defendant got behind the wheel of a red Ford Mustang and drove to a nearby liquor store with two friends to buy more alcohol.”
After heading to Bowman Field Liquors, Pozo Illas drove with his friends toward 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 traffic sign,” prosecutors said.
The fatal crash was captured via the golf course’s surveillance footage “and clearly shows the golf cart was inside the crosswalk at the time of the collision,” Janes previously wrote in court documents.
Jurors also saw body camera footage that showed officers finding a case of Corona beer bottles in the weeds next to the idle Mustang. Officers also described finding Miller Lite beer cans inside the vehicle.
The defense, on the other hand, argued during and leading up to the trial that the “yellow diamond-shaped sign with the golf cart logo was not a proper yield sign.”
And the public defenders claimed the golf cart was not a motor vehicle under Kentucky traffic statutes.
Carson Webb, a Waggener High School teacher, took the stand Wednesday to testify and said he did not know Schulz before that day but was in a golf pairing with him and other mutual friends. The group was moving from the ninth to the 10th hole when the crash occurred, Webb said.
Another golfer, Brian Pfaadt, recalled hearing the crash and then looking down from the green of the ninth hole to see a Mustang continuing down the hill on Pee Wee Reese Road after hitting the golf cart.
Pfaadt, who is also the facilities management director at Bellarmine University, said he yelled “hit the brakes” before calling 911 as he noticed one of the men on the golf cart getting dragged by the Mustang, which eventually stopped off the road by some weeds.
The 13 jurors heard audio of Pfaadt’s 911 call in which he described seeing three men in the Mustang and golfers from the nearby holes running over to make sure they did not flee the scene.
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Another witness, Tyler Cissell, described seeing a “mangled” golf cart and a victim on the top of the hood of the Mustang.
Cissell testified he ran down from the ninth hole to the stopped Mustang to join others in making sure the three males in the vehicle did not run.
One of the men sitting in the front passenger seat took off his shirt and threw what appeared to be a half-empty “beer case” into the weeds, Cissell said.
Police had Pozo Illas undergo several field sobriety and blood tests following the crash, with an LMPD officer who speaks Spanish helping Pozo Illas understand the instructions, such as on how long to blow into a breathalyzer.
Jurors saw graphic body camera footage from responding officers who treated Schulz and Hovekamp on scene and also from a cop who interacted with Pozo Illas and his two passengers. Pozo Illas told an officer after the crash that he could not stop in time to avoid hitting the cart.
Schulz had a wife and three children — ages 18, 15 and 12 — and was also remembered following 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 the couple had been married for 21 years.
He was a certified life and career coach who founded and ran Parent to Prosper, which aims to help parents “discover how to thrive by leading the growth and success of their high school and college aged children,” according to its website.
Schulz also helped young people develop their leadership skills as founder of the Emerging Leader Academy and helped start and later lead the Young Professionals Association of Louisville Emerging Leaders Program for 5 1/2 years while also working in talent development for Humana.
His widow later filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Pozo Illas as well as the liquor store that allegedly served the driver alcohol, 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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That lawsuit, filed on behalf of Schulz’s estate and the couple’s three kids, is ongoing in Jefferson Circuit Court and alleges Bowman Field Liquors knew Pozo Illas was drunk but took no steps to prevent him from driving.
It also accuses the Seneca Golf Course operator, Greenwell LLC, of negligence in the maintenance of the course and grounds and says three public works employees failed to perform their “ministerial tasks” because Pee Wee Reese Road “was not properly marked and had insufficient advanced warnings and insufficient speed breaks.”
Schulz’s widow, Kelly, testified she learned of the crash when Hovekamp’s wife called her while she was driving two of her kids to a volleyball match at Sacred Heart Academy.
“They knew that Brian was conscious,” she recalled while tearing up. “But nobody would say anything about Chris.”
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