Father's probation ends early in injury to a child case

FORT WORTH -- The probation of a former federal marshal who admitted seriously injuring his daughter in the 2007 alcohol-related crash of his modified golf cart was ended 21/2 years early by order of a state district judge Wednesday.

Louie D. Esparza, 44, was sentenced to six years of deferred adjudication probation in December 2008 after pleading guilty to a charge of injury to a child in the Aug. 6, 2007, crash, which left his daughter, Sabrina, with permanent injuries.

State District Judge Mike Thomas granted a defense motion Wednesday to end the probation early. The action means that Esparza has no finding of guilt or felony conviction on his record.

"I don't get it. I don't get it," said Jennifer Bryan-Lenard, Esparza's ex-wife and the mother of Sabrina Esparza, who was 12 when she was injured. "It's as if nothing ever occurred."

Bryan-Lenard said she had already been discouraged about the judicial system when Esparza received what she equated to a "slap on the wrist" in 2008. Wednesday's ruling, she said, stunned her.

"I think it's disheartening on two levels; one, that he would even think to try to get out of it and secondly, that they allowed it," she said. "Why bother arresting him? Why are they even bothering to go through the quote, unquote motions of executing justice when it appears, in this case, there really isn't any. What's my daughter to think?"

Assistant District Attorney Bill Vassar objected to the early release, saying that it was not in the best interest of the community.

"The victim, who is 17 now, suffers from permanent damage to her eyesight, hearing, and memory," he said Wednesday. "It is disappointing that this defendant was let off probation early when his intoxication caused serious bodily injury to his daughter."

Terry Barlow, Esparza's defense attorney, said his client took responsibility for his actions by pleading guilty and has paid his debt to society. He described Esparza as the "perfect" probationer, fulfilling everything asked of him.

"He regrets his daughter was hurt. He wishes he could take everything back," Barlow said.

The crash

Esparza was charged with injury to a child and intoxication assault in connection with the crash on a north Fort Worth street.

Witnesses said Esparza and his daughter, who was living with him, were riding in his camouflage E-Z-Go all-terrain vehicle about 3 a.m. when he lost control and rolled it at Parkwood Plaza and Haun drives. The vehicle rolled over her, causing a severe head injury and numerous abrasions.

Esparza initially blamed the crash on a car that cut him off. But Sabrina Esparza later told Child Protective Service workers that he had been drinking during the day and into the night while working on the vehicle and that she was thrown from it when he made a sharp turn.

Tests after the crash measured Esparza's blood-alcohol level at 0.17, more than double the legal limit.

In December 2008, Esparza pleaded guilty to the charge of injury to a child in exchange for the deferred sentence. As part of the plea agreement, prosecutors dismissed the intoxication assault charge.

Vassar said Sabrina Esparza's family was consulted and agreed with the plea to spare her from having to testify against her dad.

As part of Esparza's probation terms, he was ordered to abstain from alcohol and to use an ignition interlock that detects alcohol use, and he was prohibited from unsupervised contact with children under 17 except his two children with his new wife.

Officer testifies

Barlow said Esparza sought the early release primarily because being on probation had made it more difficult for him to find employment.

"He's had some opportunities he's had to pass up because of the probation," Barlow said.

Esparza had sought unsuccessfully to be released early from his probation in 2010, according to testimony in a hearing Monday before Davis.

Robert Guerin, an Archer County probation officer who has supervised Esparza since February 2009, told the judge that he supported the recommendation then that Esparza's probation end early, and that he still does.

Guerin testified that Esparza completed his community service hours and every class required as part of his probation, including a victim impact class, parenting class and substance abuse counseling.

"He has done all of those and completed all of those, in my opinion, in a very timely manner," Guerin said.

Vassar, however, pointed out during questioning of Guerin that the probation officer saw Esparza only about 15 to 20 minutes a month.

Bryan-Lenard said that though she believes her ex-husband skirted accountability for his actions, it is her daughter who "has to live with the damage."

Sabrina Esparza suffered fractures on both sides of her skull and was in a medically prolonged coma for a couple of days after the crash. She's had surgery to detach, then reattach, the muscles in one eye to prevent double vision and, as a result, has lost peripheral vision in that eye. She's lost complete hearing in one ear, her mother said.

"Her ear was almost completely off. They had to reattach it," Bryan-Lenard said.

Bryan-Lenard said her daughter, who now lives with her in the Seattle area, must also be given special accommodations at school because she struggles with a learning disability brought on by her head injury.

Sabrina Esparza hasn't seen her father for about a year, her mother said.

"He hasn't taken responsibility. He has not apologized," Bryan-Lenard said. "She's not bitter. She's just really hurt."

Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655

Twitter: @deannaboyd