Wrong-way driver has life of ups and downs

  • Article by: PAT PHEIFER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 2, 2008 - 11:26 PM

Beth Rhodes, 23, remained in critical condition after the New Year's Day collision that killed the wife of a Ramsey County deputy.

Margaret Lopez

Margaret Lopez, 56, known to friends as Maggie, was a registered nurse and had three children. She was killed early Tuesday.

"I've lost myself again," Beth Rhodes wrote on her MySpace blog in July. "It's like I'm just floating around and things are happening that I keep doing and I can't grasp on long enough to take control of the situation."

Rhodes, 23, was in serious condition Wednesday at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, more than 36 hours after she headed east in the westbound lanes of Hwy. 10 -- a divided highway -- in Arden Hills and collided head-on with a Ramsey County sheriff's squad car. Margaret L. Lopez, 56, who was riding along with her husband, deputy Joseph Lopez, on his late-night shift, died at the scene.

Rhodes' relatives declined to talk Wednesday, but on her MySpace page, she had written in the last year about ups and downs in her life after a divorce.

The State Patrol on Wednesday continued to investigate the crash, and officials weren't yet saying how fast the vehicles were traveling or releasing details of where Rhodes had been that night. The patrol confirmed Wednesday that Rhodes was the driver traveling in the wrong direction.

Alcohol was detected on Rhodes and may have been a factor in the accident, but toxicology test results that would show whether she was intoxicated are pending, Lt. Mark Peterson said.

Meanwhile, funeral arrangements for Lopez, known to friends as Maggie, were pending.

Lopez, of Shoreview, was a registered nurse and the mother of three and grandmother of two. She rode along with her husband many times and enjoyed gaining insight into his job, said deputy Kristi Pavek, who has worked with Joe Lopez for 18 years.

The couple had been married more than 20 years, Pavek said. Joe Lopez was planning to retire within the next year and was considering moving with Maggie to New Mexico, where the two vacationed last summer.

Before the accident, the couple sat in Joe Lopez's squad car and listened as music from the radio synced with the blinking of thousands of Christmas lights outside a Shoreview home.

"Maggie had the biggest smile on her face, and an hour later she was gone," Pavek said.

Joe Lopez, 61, a 27-year veteran of the Sheriff's Office, started his shift at 11 p.m. Monday. The accident happened about 3:30 a.m. Tuesday. The Lopezes were wearing seat belts, the State Patrol said. Rhodes was not.

Cheryl McBroom, a former colleague of Rhodes' and friend of the Rhodes family, described Rhodes as "a sweet, sweet girl, very sensitive." Rhodes had worked as service coordinator for Lift Stak and Stor, a materials-handling company in St. Paul, until about six months ago.

"She just always has a smile on her face and is very tender-hearted," McBroom said.

McBroom said she's known Beth since she was 6 months old.

"I'm actually her parents' friend," she said. "I love Beth, almost like she was my own daughter because I've known her for so long."

Rhodes' father, Ed, is senior pastor at North Lakes Community Church in Oak Park Heights; her mother, Barbara, is listed as Promiseland director on the church's website.

Blog reveals her feelings

Rhodes was briefly married and wrote on her blog in May that she was finally coming to terms with herself.

"I am definitely in no position to try to figure out why God throws things our way. All I know is that I AM ALIVE and know what I'm going to enjoy the life that I have and take a little more time out of my day just to spend with myself and get to know the divorced 22 year old that I am. I'm not going to be ashamed that I am 22 and divorced but I am going to be proud of the things that I have been through. So this is where I am and I'm finally happy just being me."

Two months later, she was immersed in self-doubt again: "I'm not anywhere close to where I was just a couple months ago," she wrote in July. "I was exactly the person I had fought so long to be and now I find myself fighting what seems to be an endless battle all over again. Why?"

Driving records show Rhodes has received four traffic citations since 2003: one for careless driving in 2007; one for driving after withdrawal in 2005, and two speeding tickets in 2003.

Joe Lopez has no violations on his driving record.

Staff writer Courtney Blanchard contributed to this report. Pat Pheifer • 651-298-1551

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