SAN DIEGO -- The ex-wife of a Rancho Bernardo man who's accused of passing out with a lit cigarette in his condominium, causing a fire that killed their two children, testified Tuesday that he drank to excess every day and she tried to keep his alcoholism from their children.
Nikia Lopez testified as a preliminary hearing got underway for 37-year-old Henry Lopez, who is charged with child endangerment causing death, reckless fire starting causing great bodily injury and involuntary manslaughter in connection with the early morning fire last Oct. 28.
A neighbor said she was awakened by a lot of banging about 3 a.m. but didn't realize there was a fire until she looked outside and saw flames coming from the balcony of the Lopez residence.
Lukas Dikau, who had just dropped a friend off nearby, testified that he heard some banging and a man yelling "Open the door! Open the door! Call an ambulance!"
Dikau said he also heard a female screaming, but the screaming stopped as he tried to find the front door to the affected residence.
Firefighters arrived within minutes and found 7-year-old Isabella and 10-year-old Cristos upstairs with their father. Both children died later at a hospital.
The defendant -- whose blood-alcohol content was measured at .26 percent at the hospital -- was seriously injured.
According to court documents, Lopez threatened to burn the condo down during a conversation about selling the unit and finalizing his divorce. Lopez was legally separated from his wife, but the estranged couple owned the home together.
Following the preliminary hearing -- which resumes on Wednesday -- Judge Melinda Lasater will determine whether enough evidence was presented to order Lopez to stand trial.
The defendant faces 14 years in prison if convicted.