Monday, March 19 , 2018, 3:52 am | Fair 41º


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Sister Won’t Let Distance, Difficulty Deter Her from Quest for Justice in Jenny Clark’s Death

Arizona woman to be in court today in Santa Maria to see Benjamin Bettencourt sentenced for felony DUI convictions stemming from 2012 wreck

Erin Parsons holds a photo of her sister, Jennifer Clark, who died in 2012 after being injured in a crash of a van driven by Benjamin Bettencourt in the Santa Ynez Valley. Parsons, who lives in Arizona, traveled to Santa Maria to ensure justice for her sister. “I’m representing my sister like I know how she would do for me,” she says. Click to view larger
Erin Parsons holds a photo of her sister, Jennifer Clark, who died in 2012 after being injured in a crash of a van driven by Benjamin Bettencourt in the Santa Ynez Valley. Parsons, who lives in Arizona, traveled to Santa Maria to ensure justice for her sister. “I’m representing my sister like I know how she would do for me,” she says. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Erin Parsons has waited nearly three years to see justice for her sister, who died of her injuries a week after the crash of a van operated by a man a jury recently convicted of drunken driving at the time.

This week, the Arizona resident may finally hear the sentence for Benjamin Bettencourt, a Santa Ynez Valley man who was found guilty for his role in the Nov. 24, 2012, crash that led to Jennifer Clark’s death.

On April 3, jurors found Bettencourt guilty of felony driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury, felony driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher, and enhancements for causing great bodily injury.

Bettencourt’s sentencing is scheduled for Monday in Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rogelio Flores’ courtroom in Santa Maria. He faces a maximum sentence of six years in state prison, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

As the trial started in early February Parsons said she was committed to ensuring her older sister, known as Jenny, received justice.

“We’re fighting for the truth to be told,” she said. “I’m representing my sister like I know how she would do for me.”

Parsons added that she believed Bettencourt deserved to be punished for his actions.

For most of the trial, Parsons sat in the courtroom’s front row, often accompanied by her husband, Ryan, and other family members and friends, listening as the defense blamed the crash on Clark.

Bettencourt contended Clark, who had a blood-alcohol content of .20, sat on his lap, yanked the steering and caused the wreck. He was represented by attorney, Darryl Genis, noted for vigorously defending his DUI clients.

During the trial, Genis challenged breathalyzer equipment used to measure his client’s blood-alcohol level and contended laboratory workers mishandled the contents.

While the trial reopened the wounds of her loss, Parsons had praise for Senior Deputy District Attorney Kevin Duffy, who prosecuted the case, calling him “a voice for us.”

She said she also appreciated the work of the District Attorney’s Office, including that of the support staff during her family’s ordeal.

“Their diligent work and their character has been very helpful for my family to get through this,” Parsons said.

Traveling to the Central Coast for the trial gave Parsons, her husband and their sons a chance to visit Clark’s roadside memorial, which sits near the crash site on Highway 246 between Buellton and Solvang.

Clark grew up in San Diego and moved to the Santa Ynez Valley in 2004.

At the time of the crash, the 39-year-old served as a physical education teacher at Oak Valley School in Buellton, taught adaptive physical education for the Santa Ynez Valley Special Education Consortium, and coached volleyball.

“She was an incredible person,” Parsons recalled.

Clark “absolutely loved the outdoors,” participating in all sorts of sports, she added.

“She was pretty radiant with her personality,” she said. “She could light up a room with that smile.”

Clark also was known for her sense of humor and “could crack a joke at anything,” Parsons added.

Word of the horrific crash reached Parsons while she was in labor with her second son at a suburban Phoenix hospital.

Clark had been taken to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital with major head injuries. A time of celebrating new life suddenly became a moment of mourning a life cut short.

Days after giving birth, Parsons traveled to Santa Barbara, where Clark was being treated for severe brain trauma.

Parsons introduced her unconscious sister to her newest nephew.

“I was able to say goodbye to her,” Parsons said.

Clark died Dec. 2, 2012.

Parsons soon learned that the fatal wreck wasn’t Bettencourt’s first.

He reportedly was involved in a speed contest on Alisos Canyon Road in 1998 when his vehicle crashed, killing 18-year-old Lesley Alejo.

The wreck left Bettencourt a paraplegic and confined to a wheelchair. He was found guilty of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, and was sentenced to probation and community service.

When the jury returned the guilty verdict last month, Parsons didn’t just have her sister in mind, noting it also was vindication for Alejo.

“Justice for Jenny is finally served,” Parsons said after the latest guilty verdicts. “God, that makes me so happy to say.”

After the judge sentenced Bettencourt to a mid-term of five years in state prison Monday morning, Parsons said she was OK with outcome.

"I hope that he does feel remorse one day for Jennifer's and Lesley’s lives," Parsons said.

Her family still has not received an apology for the Jennifer's death.

"It adds to the pain," she said. 

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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