Volunteer driver for seniors accused of sex assault

Southwest Michigan

PAW PAW, Mich. (WOOD) — A Decatur man is charged with third-degree criminal sexual conduct, accused of sexually assaulting a passenger he was driving as a volunteer for Senior Services of Van Buren County.

Juan Manuel Lopez, 61, is in the Van Buren County Jail in lieu of a $500,000 cash bond.

“It’s like I can’t get him out of my head,” the alleged victim, 65, said through tears in an interview with 24 Hour News 8 Tuesday.

“You know, it happened right there and I have to see that spot,” she explained, referring to the area in her apartment where the alleged assault took place. “I can’t move.”

On April 3, Lopez drove the woman to her doctor’s appointment, later returning her to her Paw Paw apartment and following her inside.

“I thought he was gone because I was putting my keys on the table, and I turned around and he had shut the door and locked it. That’s when he sexually assaulted me,” she said, her voice shaking as she recounted what she says happened.

“I kept telling him, ‘Stop,’ and he said, ‘Well, I don’t wanna stop.’ And he said some nasty things to me,” the woman recalled.

The woman reported the assault to Senior Services of Van Buren County the next day and the agency contacted police.

Testifying before a judge to obtain an arrest warrant, a Paw Paw police detective described what happened leading up to the sexual assault.

“He basically approached her and put his arms around her neck. He was very strong, and she was unable to get away from him at that point … At one point, he kissed her on the neck and was able to give her a hickey,” said the detective, confirming that police had viewed the mark.

“In interviewing, Lopez he did admit hugging and kissing, but made no other admissions,” the detective told the judge.

The detective said Lopez had initially offered to take a polygraph but later changed his mind.

Senior Services, a nonprofit funded by millage dollars and donations, refused comment Tuesday.

It’s unclear how long Lopez had volunteered for the organization or if there were any prior complaints. His criminal record shows only one conviction: a drunken driving-related arrest from 1998.

The woman reached out to 24 Hour News 8 in part because she hopes to force Senior Services of Van Buren County to take additional safety measures to protect other seniors.

“Senior Services won’t put a policy in effect that will make seniors safer,” she said.

She wants the agency to provide passengers with the make, model and plate number of the vehicle the volunteer should be driving. She said Senior Services told her the black pickup that Lopez picked her up in was not the vehicle he had registered with the agency.

“I get in his truck and the passenger-side door doesn’t open,” the woman recalled. “He reached across me, you know, the truck was so small that he had to touch me to put my seat belt on me.”

The woman said it would have been a red flag if she had known the truck was not the vehicle he was supposed to be driving.

But she said there were other red flags as well. Police and the woman reported that Lopez showed up at her apartment three days before her doctor’s appointment.

“He came over here really early Sunday and I was in my nightgown,” she explained. “I think it was to see what I look like. … He said, ‘You look beautiful in your nightgown,’ and he said, ‘I’ll see you. I’ll call you Wednesday.’”

Then as they walked to his truck after the appointment Wednesday, the woman said Lopez talked about his wife.

“He kept trying to put his arm around me,” she recalled. “That’s when he started talking about his wife, that his wife didn’t show him no affection and didn’t let him get close to her.”

The police detective who obtained the arrest warrant told the judge that Lopez had violated other Senior Services standards as well, for instance going to a passenger’s door instead of waiting in the parking lot.

“It was determined through the investigation that this is not standard procedure or protocol for drivers for Senior Services,” the detective testified.

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