Ex of suspect in officer’s death says former boyfriend was not a ‘monster’

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Sonia Lopez awoke Sunday morning to a frantic phone call from her ex-boyfriend’s mother.

Felix Calata, the man she had been with for twelve years before drug use severed their relationship, was dead. It was a phone call she dreaded, but expected. 

“I kinda felt like I was waiting for that phone call,” said Lopez, who now lives in Texas with her two children fathered by Calata. 

“I woke up this morning and I can still hear my daughter screaming,” she said. Lopez broke the news of her ex-boyfriend’s death to her daughter, 10, and 6-year-old son – leaving out details of how he died. Calata was shot and killed by South Salt Lake Police Saturday afternoon as they responded to a burglary call at 3575 S. West Temple. 

“They are just too young,” she said. 

But for Lopez, the heartbreak compounded when she learned the police officer who was trying to stop Calata during that burglary call, had died after Calata hit him with his car during the encounter. 
“We were just like ‘oh, no,'” said Lopez. “We just froze.” Lopez was with her mother and her brother and sister-in-law at the time. Immediately, she said, the family wanted to reach out to Officer David Romrell’s wife. She said the family gathered and prayed for her and for Romrell’s four-month-old baby.

The family decided to write an open letter to Romrell’s wife and child and posted it to Facebook. In the letter, Lopez’s brother vows to Romrell’s wife that her children will be raised to know that Romrell was “the good guy” in this terrible situation. 

Read the full letter here

Lopez said she left Calata because of his frequent drug use. But before he turned to drugs, she said, he was a generous and caring man. 

“He was always that kind of person that wanted to help,” she said. “He really was a good person…he really had the most amazing heart,” said Lopez, who added she once witnessed Calata pull over to help a family stranded on the side of the road. 

She said drugs turned him into someone else. 

“He’s not that monster,” said Lopez. 

Court records show Calata had frequent run-ins with law enforcement, including several felony convictions for auto theft dating back to 2005. In his most recent court appearance Calata – who had skipped out on several hearings for a probation violation stemming from a 2015 drug charge – politely tells a judge in West Jordan he was ready to “be done” with that probation charge. He was sentenced to 50 days in the Salt Lake County jail on September 11 of this year. Shortly after his release, he would die in an officer-involved shooting Thanksgiving weekend. 

His criminal history was extensive. Utah Highway Patrol indicates at the time of his death, Calata was also being investigated for a felony DUI case in which his passenger Danyelle Jennings died. She was a passenger in a stolen Jeep Grand Cherokee when Calata, who was high on meth at the time, fled a traffic stop and ran a red light, crashing into another car. Both Jennings and Calata were ejected. Calata was taken to the hospital with serious injuries, but was never formally charged with Auto Homicide or Felony DUI. 

Sgt. Jalaine Hawkes with Utah Highway Patrol told ABC4 News Monday that Calata’s charge was forthcoming, but investigators were still building a case – eight months after the fact. 

Calls to District Attorney Sim Gill’s office to ask about the hold-up went unreturned. 

Lopez said she and her family are wondering why Calata was even out of jail, given the seriousness of the allegations. 

“His own mother agrees with that question,” said Lopez. 

Lopez said she and her family are preparing to fly to Salt Lake City to plan Calata’s funeral. She said she hopes she will get the opportunity to pay respects to Officer Romrell. She also said she hopes to embrace his wife. 

“As a mother, I would be more than happy to just give her a big hug;  to tell her that I know how she feels,” said Lopez. 

“I don’t want to say that we gave up on [Felix] because … we really didn’t. I gave him so many chances. You just can’t help somebody that doesn’t want to be helped,” said Lopez. 

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.