When family and friends surrounded Jordan Parsons at the hospital before he was taken off life support in May 2016, his mother said she couldn’t be in the room. The 25-year-old had fought for days through several surgeries and a leg amputation after he was hit by a driver and left for dead in Delray Beach, but doctors told the family there was nothing more they could do.
“I got to see his first breath,” Anna Marlen said in court Wednesday morning. But, she said, she couldn’t watch his last.
Dennis Michael Wright, who pleaded guilty this month, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the DUI crash that eventually killed Parsons before Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Laura Johnson on Wednesday morning. Once his sentence is complete, he will be on probation for an additional 10 years, cannot drink alcohol, must undergo substance-abuse treatment and must carry a photo of Parsons at all times.
Johnson told Wright, 31, that this was “one of the most callous and wanton acts I have ever seen.”
“I hope you think of Mr. Parsons every day you’re in prison,” she said.
Johnson told Marlen, from “one mother to another,” that she couldn’t imagine how hard it’s been to go through this and to come to court Wednesday.
Marlen said not only is she mourning her son, she’s “mourning his hopes and dreams and goals.” She said she’s spent the last two years trying to write a statement because she knew she’d eventually have to, but “consumed with grief, I couldn’t find the words to explain Jordan’s death.”
She said her son, a mixed martial arts fighter who trained with the Blackzillians MMA team at Jaco Hybrid Training Center in Boca Raton, was in the best shape of his life, and she thought he was going to pull through in the hospital. Parsons was 11-3 in Bellator, a MMA organization similar to the more popular Ultimate Fighting Championship.
“Every cell in my body aches. I won’t smile as often as my old self. Smiling hurts,” she said. “Most everything hurts.”
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As part of the plea deal he entered into Aug. 9, Wright would be sentenced to 10 years in prison only if he admitted guilt and told in detail how much he drank before he hit and killed Parsons and the actions he took after the fatal crash.
With a courtroom full of Parsons’ friends and family members Wednesday, along with a Delray Beach police officer, Wright detailed the hours leading up to the wreck.
On May 1, 2016, Delray Beach police said Parsons crossed the street at the intersection of South Federal Highway and Lindell Boulevard when he was hit by Wright just after midnight. Police believe Wright was driving at 116 mph in a 2013 Range Rover just seconds before the crash.
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Wright explained he had been out kayaking with friends in Jupiter, then got lunch and drinks. Then more drinks. Then, the group went to SunFest and spent hours there drinking. Eventually, he made his way to Delray Beach with his roommate and drank more to the point he was “visibly impaired.”
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When he left the bar, he headed home on Federal Highway, speeding through intersections until he hit something. He thought maybe he had veered off the road and hit a street sign or the curb. He eventually stopped his car, several hundred yards away, and got out but didn’t see anything behind him, so he drove home and went to bed.
The next day he went to work and had his roommate take his car to be repaired. Eventually, the mechanic said he couldn’t fix the car because he knew it had been involved in a crash that injured someone.
“I went through that entire day not knowing what had happened,” Wright told the judge.
Many of the friends and family had their heads down and wore shirts bearing Parsons’ image, name and his words, “You only get one … One life. One body. Use it wisely.”
At one point during Wright’s testimony as he apologized, one man yelled out, “You could have stopped your (expletive) car.”
When he realized he had hit Parsons, and days later learned he had died, Wright called his mother. He said before she even got emotional, she asked if he had called police to turn himself in. He said no. Though she told him to call them right away, he called an attorney. Eventually, he was arrested and charged with DUI manslaughter and leaving the scene of a fatal crash.
“I know without a doubt if I had been driving with a proper licence, within the speed limit and sober, I know Mr. Parsons would have been alive today,” Wright said.
Marlen said that after Parsons finished his first surgery at Delray Beach Medical Center, she said he sat up in his bed and tried to talk to her but couldn’t because of all the tubes in his throat. She said she could barely fit in the room because of all the machines keeping him alive.
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As he was wheeled away for another surgery, dozens of his friends, his family and his fellow gym members flooded the hospital’s halls. She said she remembered staff members had to take him through another door to surgery as the crowd cheered, “You can do this Jordan! Fight, Jordan!”
Skyler Parsons, Jordan’s brother, immediately started crying as he stood before the judge to speak Wednesday. He said he wasn’t sure what to say because he was still “so angry.”
“For as long as I can remember it was me, my mom and my brother,” he said. “And it was supposed to be me and my brother for much longer.”