Two families left the Faulkner County Justice Building heartbroken Thursday afternoon. The parents along with other family members of the late Esther Lazar were hoping 29-year-old Joshua Parks would receive a harsher sentence, and Parks' family bid the Morrilton goodbye after he was ordered to serve five and a half years in the Arkansas Department of Corrections.
The seven women and five men selected to serve as jurors in the Parks Trial did their due diligence to ensure justice was served. Following two days of testimony, the group deliberated for more than three hours before finding Parks guilty as charged.
Parks was found guilty of first-degree battery, negligent homicide and reckless driving following a fatal crash that occurred shortly before midnight on June 27, 2014, near mile marker 135 along Interstate 40 in Mayflower.
As little Esther's mother sat at the courtroom Thursday morning during the sentencing phase of Parks' trial, she recalled memories shared with her young daughter. It's been nearly five years since the 5-year-old was killed in a crash just outside of Mayflower, and her mother, Lucy, cried as she remembered her daughter wanting to be a princess. The Lazars were driving home to Hot Springs after vacationing with family in California. The entire family of five never made it back home to Hot Springs because the were rear ended along the interstate. Esther was pronounced dead at the scene, and Lucy was flown to Baptist Health Medical Center in Little Rock. It was heartbreaking to watch Lucy cry as she reminisced the time she had with her daughter. But, it was also heartbreaking to watch Parks' family weep prior to knowing what the 29-year-old's sentence would be.
Throughout the first two days of the trial, the Morrilton man sat up straight and listened to all the testimony against him. After being found guilty as charged the day before, he wiped tears from his eyes and sulked in his seat at the front of the courtroom as he listened to several family members share fond words of him, one of those being that he was an excellent father to his 6-month-old son.
The Lazars deserved justice, and it's sad to know a young boy will be without his father as he serves his time in prison to give justice four a family that has mourned the loss of a 5-year-old girl for years. It's truly a sad situation.
Listening to the testimony in this matter was difficult to listen to. One the one hand, there is a family who says their lives are forever affected by the loss of Esther. So much so that Esther's younger brother is traumatized and scared to ride in vehicles and the girl's father refuses to drive at night anymore. On the other hand, there was finger pointing at this mourning family by the defense counsel.
Defense attorney Tabitha 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. However, according to the mother who forever will remember her final moments with her daughter being in the van that was struck from behind by Branch's client who was speeding at 100 mph on the night in question, little "Esty" was wearing her seat belt when Parks barrelled into the back of the Lazars' minivan.
Now, the 5-year-old girl is forever gone, and the family, along with the sadness associated with Esther's death, also has painful memories of the accusations against them during the trial. It's truly heartbreaking, and it's only fair that the jury sentenced Parks to prison and ordered he pay a $1,500 fine, even when that meant breaking him away from his family in order to give the Lazars justice.
Know of a local resident who deserves recognition, have a question regarding a Faulkner County issue or want to provide a news tip? Contact Log Cabin Democrat reporter Marisa Hicks via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 501-505-1277. Hicks has served on the LCD’s team for three years as the local crime reporter.