A jury of seven women and five men deliberated for three hours and eight minutes before finding a Morrilton man guilty as charged in a 2015 negligent homicide case.
Following two days of testimony, the jury began deliberating at 4:35 p.m. Wednesday before ultimately finding 29-year-old Joshua Parks guilty of negligent homicide, first-degree battery and reckless driving.
Prosecutors called four witnesses to the stand before resting their case at 1:55 p.m. Wednesday in the case that stemmed from a June 2014 fatal crash near the 135 mile marker along Interstate 40 in Mayflower. Deputy prosecutors Cortney Kennedy and Colin Wall called 11 witnesses total over the past two days.
Defense attorney Tabitha Branch also called four witnesses to the stand Wednesday before resting at 3:12 p.m.
Of those who testified Wednesday was Lucy Lazar. Lucy, who was severely injured in the 2014 crash, is mother to 5-year-old Esther Lazar. Esther died on scene June 27, 2014, from injuries sustained in the crash.
Lucy spoke about the trip she and her family of five was returning home to Hot Springs from on the night in question. The Lazars visited with family and also went to Sea World in California before driving for two days to go back home. The entire family didn't make it back home from their summer vacation, because her daughter died and she was flown to the Baptist Health Medical Center in Little Rock to receive bone reconstruction surgery, she said.
On Tuesday, both Lucy's husband, Mihail and Arkansas State Trooper Matthew Toon testified the couple's daughter was not wearing her seat belt at the time of the crash. However, as she sat at the front of the courtroom, Lucy said she distinctly remembered fastening her 5-year-old daughter's seat belt.
After she and her husband pulled over so that Mihail could take over driving the family's minivan, Lucy testified that she checked on each of the couple's three children. "Esty" had fallen asleep and was leaned over her booster seat, so Lucy tightened her daughter's seat belt and propped up a few pillows against the young girl so she could sleep more comfortably.
Immediately after checking on her daughter, Lucy said she kissed her young daughter, not knowing it would be the last time she did so.
"I kissed her, and told her I loved her and I heard her lips whisper, 'I love you too,'" Lucy said as she, too, whispered her daughter's last words and began to cry while on the stand. "That was the last time I heard her voice."
Lucy said she was unsure if she ever buckled herself back in, adding she had just called her aunt to thank her for the family trip before the crash occurred.
Records show the crash occurred shortly before midnight on June 27, 2014.
She and her husband noticed a set of headlights rapidly approaching their family's minivan as they drove along in the right-hand lane at 67 mph soon after she got off the phone with her aunt. Mihail testified Tuesday that he initially thought the lights belonged to a police car before the couple's vehicle was struck from behind, causing the minivan he was driving to flip off the interstate and roll "three or four times."
When the Chevrolet Impala driven by Parks reportedly hit the back of their vehicle, Lucy said her husband held onto her with one arm as he kept his left arm planted on the steering wheel.
The mother who lost one of her children that night said she didn't remember much of the crash itself but that she did remember her husband carrying her to the side of the vehicle and that she called out for police and paramedics to help her young daughter, who was laying before her.
"I don't remember how I got ejected. I just remember a lot of dirt in my mouth ... [and] I said, 'Don't worry about me, just take care of her,'" Lucy said.
While she said she was OK and demanded her daughter receive treatment on scene, Lucy testified that in reality, she "was in excruciating pain" at the time. Lucy said she also didn't learn her daughter died in the crash until two days after the fact.
Arkansas State Police Trooper Greg Dycus said Parks was driving 100 mph when he slammed into the back of the Lazars' minivan.
According to information retrieved from Parks's vehicle, the Impala's Electronic Data Recorder (EDR) showed Parks never pushed onto his brakes prior to crashing into the Lazar's minivan.
Branch questioned why a full reconstruction of the crash was never completed, and Dycus said it was because prosecutors at the time did not tell him to do so. Felony charges were filed against Parks nearly one year after the fatal crash.
The defense counsel said it did not believe there was enough evidence against Parks, adding that there was no EDR information available for the Lazars' minivan. The Lazars purchased the Toyota Sienna at an auction in Dallas, Texas, a few years prior to the 2014 crash. The vehicle had previously been involved in a crash, and during the investigation of the 2014 crash, authorities later learned a new EDR was never installed in the minivan and the data listed in the recorder was from an unrelated crash.
Despite not having information from the minivan's EDR, Dycus said the damage to the Lazars' vehicle along with information from the Impala's EDR showed Parks was at fault.
Against arguments from Branch about her client not being impaired at the time of the crash, Wall told jurors during closing statements to keep in mind that the now-29-year-old's blood alcohol content was .066 about an hour and a half after the crash.
According to an expert witness called to the stand by the defense counsel, "it's possible" that Park's BAC was .079 at the time of the crash. The legal limit in Arkansas is .08.
Parks' actions were like a game of Russian Roulette, with the first shot being when he started drinking on the night in question, moving next to getting in his vehicle, turning on the ignition, driving at speeds of 99-100 mph and ending when he smashed into the Lazars' vehicle, Wall said.
Branch said she didn't think it was fair her client had been "condemned" since the night of the crash.
"If they would have had their seat belts on, this would be an insurance claim and we wouldn't be here today," she argued in her closing statements.
Kennedy reminded jurors just before they began deliberating of a statement a Conway Regional Medical Center nurse overhead Parks say on the night in question: "Ha, I beat the system."
While showing a photo of young Esty on two large screens at the front of the courtroom, Kennedy said it was wrong for Parks to do something like this and then brag about thinking he got away with the crime.
Referring to a statement she made at the beginning of the trial regarding how the value of life is measured, Kennedy said the Lazars forever will have a different measurement and outlook its meaning.
"For the Lazars, what was once measured in love and memories is now measured in grief and pain," she said, adding that Parks' actions were reckless and caused a 5-year-old girl to die.
The sentencing phase of the Parks Trial is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Thursday in Courtroom 4 of the Faulkner County Justice Building in Conway.