Manslaughter trial begins in child's death

Paul, 21, charged with driving into 5-year-old on Fairbanks sidewalk

Posted: Monday, May 25, 2009

FAIRBANKS - The father of a 5-year-old Fairbanks boy struck last summer by a suspected drunk driver took the stand at her trial and immediately broke down in tears.

The judge in the case ordered a recess so Edward Lara could compose himself before testifying in the manslaughter trial of 21-year-old Jessica Paul.

Paul is charged with driving into Phillip Lara as he rode a Big Wheel tricycle on the sidewalk two doors down from his home.

The child sustained serious injuries and died about a month later at a Seattle hospital.

Paul was 20 when the accident occurred.

Investigators say she had been drinking with her sister, a cousin and a friend at a park. She was behind the wheel because she was the most sober of the four women, prosecutors said in court filings.

Lara described how a quiet summer evening was shattered by the accident. He was in the house talking to his oldest son. His wife, Rose, was outside with their other children, including Phillip.

"A young woman ran down the street yelling, 'Call 911,"' he said. "Then I heard my wife yell out, 'Where's Phillip?' That's when I came outside, and I ran down the street and found Phillip in front of the car."

The boy's eyes were closed, Lara said, and he was moaning. The Big Wheel was partially underneath the car.

In her opening statement, assistant district attorney Corinne Vorenkamp promised to show the jury that Phillip Lara's death was caused by the accident and that a sober driver would not have hit him.

Paul's public defender, Jennifer Hite, acknowledged that her client had been drinking. However, extremely bright conditions made it impossible for Paul to see the boy, she said.

"It was impossible for her to avoid the accident whether she had been drinking or not," Hite said.

Paul is charged with manslaughter, assault and misdemeanors that include driving under the influence of alcohol.

The trial is expected to last two weeks.

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