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Mother of '03 DUI victim fights parole

Liza Smith, center, with her children Autumn Smith, 13, and Desi Smith, 15, holds a photo of Darius "Buddha" Smith, who was killed by a drunken driver.
Liza Smith, center, with her children Autumn Smith, 13, and Desi Smith, 15, holds a photo of Darius "Buddha" Smith, who was killed by a drunken driver.
Liz Martin, Deseret Morning News

TAYLORSVILLE — The man killed one of her children and nearly ruined the lives of two others, Liza Smith says. And three years is not enough punishment for that crime, she says, not by a long shot.

"There is no way he should be out of prison."

Four years ago — five days before Halloween — a drunken Tory Lee Jacques blew through a stop sign in a quiet Magna neighborhood, and his vehicle struck four members of the Smith family as they walked toward McDonald's.

"There's no way to describe how this has ruined our lives," Liza Smith said.

Jacques is scheduled to make his first appearance before the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole today. It is a routine event for every inmate at the Utah State Prison and often a formality in homicide cases.

"This hearing is set to consider him for parole, but just because he's having this hearing doesn't necessarily mean he'll get a parole date," said Jim Hatch, a spokesman for the parole board.

Hatch said it's "highly unlikely" Jacques will be paroled immediately, given the severity of his sentence. The board's decision won't come for at least three weeks.

Smith and a network of friends hope an e-mail campaign will help sway the board to keep him locked up.

She asks people to write to to convey their thoughts about the case.

"I want the parole board to understand that everyone is outraged by the fact he has a parole hearing. The public is livid. Everybody is feeling a lack of justice."

Darius Joseph Smith, who his family called "Buddha," would have been 10 this fall.

But the then-6-year-old boy, who'd just started school, was killed instantly by the impact of a crash that also knocked out his big brother, Desmond, and critically injured his sister.

Desmond's teeth were broken. Doctors found a fractured leg, damaged knee and a concussion when the 11-year-old boy they call "Desi" arrived at the hospital. The boy's ear was nearly torn from his head.

Buddha's dad, Earl Smith, was knocked unconscious, too. He awoke to see a little body under a sheet.

No one saw Buddha's sister, Autumn, at the accident scene that night until they heard her crying out softly for her teddy bear. The 9-year-old was wedged between the car's front tire and a chain-link fence, her face down in the dirt and her legs twisted horribly.

She had a broken right femur and a double compound fracture of the left femur. One bone in her lower leg was broken, too, and road rash covered her body. Her spine was injured, and she had swelling and fluid on the brain. She also had a concussion, and her front teeth were knocked through her lip.

What is worse, Autumn never lost consciousness. She remembers being hit, being pinned against the fence and being airlifted by Life Flight. She also remembers seeing the small, black car that hit her, the flashing lights and the stark sight of a white sheet covering a small figure as the helicopter ascended.

"I have been drinking, but I'm OK to drive," Jacques told Salt Lake County sheriff's deputy Michael Lee that night.

Jacques pleaded guilty to charges related to the crash. A judge ordered consecutive sentences for Jacques for second-degree felony vehicular homicide (one to 15 years in prison), and two third-degree felony charges of driving under the influence/causing serious bodily injury (zero to five years in prison on each count).

He has been inmate No. 37191 at the Utah State Prison and has had no trouble or write-ups, prison spokesman Jack Ford said.

Jacques graduated from the prison's Conquest Program, an intensive substance abuse treatment program, and has taken some community college classes. He works 20 hours a week as a laborer in the Baker Unit, cleaning the section, serving food and cleaning up after meals. He earns 40 cents an hour.

Jacques declined requests for interviews with the Deseret Morning News.

Meanwhile, Smith, the children's mother, has been tossed in a sea of medical, financial and educational troubles. The family's struggles continue.

"It's never-ending," she says. The parade of doctor appointments for 15-year-old Desi and 13-year-old Autumn, the surgeries, the nightmares and the bevy of missed opportunities.

Desi started to play football at Cottonwood High this fall. But in the first practice, his leg — the leg broken in the crash four years ago — "went totally dead on him," his mom says. The leg never healed right. "He had to stop playing immediately," she says.

Autumn, now in her first year at Bonneville Junior High, came home discouraged, too. She thought about trying out for cheerleader, but the scars on her legs make her self-conscious.

She's had eye problems, kidney damage and problems with her pancreas. She still has a steel plate in her femur.

"I can't believe that Buddha is gone, that my kids would still have all these troubles, and that Tory Lee Jacques would be out of prison," Smith said. "That's just not right.

And that is the response she gets from the public. Last Monday morning, after talking about Buddha's case on a local radio station, Smith said she received 100 e-mails, apparently urging the board to deny Jacques' parole.

"What kind of justice system could possibly allow a person to be free after three measly years for killing a child?" one person wrote in a letter directed to the board.

"Try to put yourself in the shoes of this mother that has to mourn the loss of a child every day for the rest of her life. This selfish drunk needs to stay in jail for a LONG TIME," another wrote.

One mother shared a story.

"Several years ago, a man in my neighborhood shot his family pet in a domestic dispute. He is currently serving an 8-15 year sentence and has been in jail for two years without parole currently.

"Surely the courts must concede that the life of a child holds much more value than even a family pet."

The state Board of Pardons doesn't receive e-mails, so Smith collects them herself, printing them out and mailing them to officials. "I hope they get the message."