FAIRFIELD, Idaho — This story was originally published in the Idaho Mountain Express.
A Fairfield man was sentenced to a minimum of 17-and-a-half years in prison on Wednesday after pleading guilty to four felony offenses: three counts of vehicular manslaughter and one count of aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol, according to the Idaho Mountain Express.
Matthew Richard Park, 47, killed three children in the early hours of Aug. 10, 2019.
Three sisters, Aneena Lurak, 6, Kya Lurak, 5, and Drayka Emyka Rayshell, 3, were asleep in their car seats in the back of their parents’ Dodge Neon when Park rear-ended the family’s car. The collision killed the two older siblings instantly and fatally injured the youngest, who died at a hospital in Boise later that morning.
The girls’ father, Somchai Lurak, was driving with his fiancée Emma Weigand in the passenger seat. The impact left Lurak an incomplete quadriplegic.
The Neon was stopped at a temporary construction light between Timmerman Junction and Fairfield on U.S. Highway 20 when Park, who approached the light going 85 mph, failed to see the vehicle’s brake lights, and collided into the back of the Neon going an estimated 53 mph, according to an accident reconstruction completed by the Idaho State Police.
Park’s 2500 Dodge pickup weighed roughly 6,000 lbs., according to prosecuting attorney Matt Fredback, nearly double the Neon. Upon impact, the truck drove on top of the back of the Neon. Park attempted multiple times to back up off of the vehicle, where the girls and their parents were all trapped.
At the scene of the accident, Park gave a breath sample to check for alcohol in his system. He had a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.191/0.189, or more than two-and-a-half times the legal limit of 0.08.
Family and friends of both the defendant and the victims were present during Wednesday’s emotional sentencing hearing. Weigand read a statement into the court record, highlighting each of the couple’s three daughters and telling the court what they will miss most about each of them.
Aneena, “always told it like it is,” Weigand said. “She was her daddy’s little sidekick.”
Aneena loved sports, particularly soccer, and loved to write, sing and dance.
“She’s the girl who made us parents,” Weigand told the court through tears.
Kya was described as “mischievous,” smart and a quick learner. She would have entered kindergarten the week following the crash, and was excited to start.
“Kya was full of love,” Weigand said. She enjoyed spending time with her family and going on adventures. Lurak and Weigand called her, “our little sour patch kid.”
Drayka, the youngest of the three sisters, was a “sassy little chunky monkey,” Weigand told the court.
Soft and loving, Drayka used her hands and body movement to tell stories. She loved ballet and free style dancing.
“She had a lot of wishes that will never come true,” Weigand said.
Lurak, who also gave a victim’s impact statement to the court, said he fears he will never be able to do the things he used to love—hiking, fishing, hunting—due to his injuries, which have left him confined to a wheelchair.
“Everything has just spiraled downhill,” Lurak said, telling the court his daughters were his reason to live and his whole world.
Five people testified under oath on Park’s behalf during Wednesday’s four-hour long sentencing hearing, describing him as a warm, kindhearted man who would do anything for anyone. They called the tragedy a terrible accident that should not be the singular defining moment upon which his character is judged.
Ultimately, Fifth District Judge Ned Williamson followed the prosecutor’s recommendation of five years fixed for each of the three vehicular manslaughter charges, with an indeterminate sentence of 10 years if parole isn’t granted. The 15 years will run consecutively, along with a two-and-a-half-year sentence for the aggravated DUI charge.
If released following the mandated sentence, Park will be 64 years old. Following his release, Park will have a suspended driver’s license for five years, and will be ordered to have an interlock device installed in his vehicle for the rest of his life, ensuring he will never be able to drive under the influence of alcohol again.
A restitution hearing will be scheduled sometime in the future to determine Park’s financial responsibility to Lurak and Weigand. As of Wednesday, the restitution amount for medical expenses exceeded a quarter of a million dollars, an amount that Fredback said will continue to grow for years to come as Lurak continues rehabilitation.
Prior to receiving his sentence, Park gave a statement to the court, addressing Lurak and Weigand from the defense table.
“I will always be burdened with the weight of what I’ve done,” Park said through tears. “My only wish is that somehow I could ease your suffering. I am so truly sorry.”