Ex-volunteer charged in housemate's death

Medford resident who had aided homeless cited after beating victim dies

Aonce homeless Medford man lauded for helping others living on the streets now faces manslaughter charges for a September punching and stomping attack of a housemate who died a month later from severe head injuries in a Medford hospital.

A Jackson County grand jury on Thursday indicted John Troy Lopes, 50, on charges of first-degree and second-degree manslaughter as well as second-degree and third-degree assault stemming from the death of Charles Ward Puzak.

Witnesses told police that Lopes was angry at the way Puzak was talking to Lopes' girlfriend and attacked the 61-year-old victim, punching and kicking him 10 to 15 times each before stopping, according to the Medford Police Department.

Lopes and Puzak had been drinking several beers before the 12:37 a.m. attack that started in the driveway of the house they shared on the 2300 block of Howard Avenue. It ended in the street after Lopes dragged the victim to the curb before finishing his assault, police said.

"This wasn't a mutual fight that got out of hand," Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau said. "The victim never fought back. He took a beating. It was an assault."

Puzak was conscious when police arrived and spoke with officers at the scene and again at Rogue Regional Medical Center, where doctors diagnosed Puzak with a traumatic cranial hemorrhage, Budreau said.

At the scene, Lopes told officers that he was tired of the way Puzak was talking to his girlfriend, who police identified as 35-year-old Dawnell Carrier, according to Budreau.

Lopes was arrested at the scene and a grand jury indicted Lopes on felony assault charges two days later, police said. He has remained in the Jackson County Jail since his arrest, police said.

Puzak's condition deteriorated over time, police said. He died Oct. 10 and a subsequent autopsy ruled his death a homicide, Budreau said.

A first-degree manslaughter conviction carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years under Oregon's Measure 11 minimum-sentencing law.

Paul Tucker, who helps run the food pantry and winter warming station at Central Point's Calvary Temple, said Lopes was once homeless and first used the station during winter 2009. They became friends, with Lopes at times living at Tucker's house before Lopes got his own house and in turn opened it to other homeless people there, Tucker said.

As many as 10 people would live at his residence, each paying small amounts toward the rent, Tucker said.

Lopes volunteered at the warming station three times a week and gained high praise as an example of how the shelter works, Tucker said. Lopes even gave CPR to a homeless man in January, likely saving the man's life, Tucker said.

The September assault "was completely out of character for John," Tucker said. "I was dumbfounded when I heard it. Dumbfounded."

Jackson County Circuit Court records show that Lopes pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of methamphetamine in August 2012. He has no other known criminal record in Oregon, according to court records.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

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