Merced man tried to gas himself - and his toddler - to death, a jury says

Gerardo Ruiz-Lopez, 42, of Merced
Gerardo Ruiz-Lopez, 42, of Merced Merced County Sheriff's Office

A 42-year-old Merced man faces a potential life sentence after a jury convicted him of trying to kill his 2-year-old daughter, the Merced County District Attorney's Office reported.

Gerardo Ruiz-Lopez on July 10, 2016, locked himself and the toddler inside a closet at his home on Vivaz Court and released propane fumes from two five-gallon tanks, according to the investigators with the Merced Police Department.

The child was saved when Merced police officers, responding to investigate a claim the child was in danger, forced their way into the home and found Ruiz-Lopez and the child in the second-story walk-in closet.

The officers - James Lodwick, Alvino Garcia, Joe Opinski, James Marshall and Sgt. Dan Dabney - found the child "limp" and "unresponsive," prosecutors said.

Inside the closet, police found the propane tanks along with toys, pillows and a tablet computer, prosecutors said in a statement released Tuesday.

The girl's mother, described by authorities as Ruiz-Lopez's ex-girlfriend, asked police to check on the daughter after she received text messages and a phone call from Ruiz-Lopez described by investigators as "disturbing." Police said the girl's mother believed Ruiz-Lopez had killed the child.

The child received medical care and ultimately survived.

Police evacuated several neighboring homes while working to get Ruiz-Lopez to surrender and the city's bomb unit was called out to remove the propane tanks, officers said.

Ruiz-Lopez on May 9 was convicted by a jury of attempted murder and child abuse.

Lt. Don King praised the officers for saving the child.

"They didn't know what they would be walking into when they went in there, but they were concerned for the child and put their safety aside and went in," King said Tuesday. "They were able to get her out and ultimately they got him out too, probably saving both their lives."

Caleb Hegland, the Merced County deputy district attorney prosecuting the case, also praised the officers. Hegland said the conviction means Ruiz-Lopez "will hopefully never have the chance to harm a child again."

During the court process, Ruiz-Lopez claimed he didn't remember taking the propane tanks into the closet and also said he didn't recall the text messages or the phone call to the child's mother. He also attempted to plead not guilty by reason of insanity, but a jury found him "not legally insane," prosecutors said in the statement.

Ruiz-Lopez remains in custody without bail at the John Latorraca Correctional Facility.

He faces seven years to life in prison at his sentencing hearing June 7.