Man gets four years in fatal hit-and-run in Poplar Bluff

Monday, December 4, 2017
Randel Sparks

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — A Poplar Bluff, Missouri, man will spend the next four years in prison for his role in the December 2015 hit-and-run accident that killed a local teenager, Heavenly Grace Hafford.

Randel Craig Sparks, who pre-empted his August trial by pleading guilty to the felonies of leaving the scene of a motor-vehicle accident and tampering with physical evidence, was sentenced Friday morning by Judge David Jones in Greene County.

“The maximum he could have got was four and four, consecutive” on the charges, Butler County assistant prosecuting attorney Paul Oesterreicher said. “... The state argued for four and four consecutive to go directly to prison. The defense (asked for) four and four concurrent and probation.”

Oesterreicher said the judge sentenced Sparks to consecutive four-year prison sentences but suspended the second sentence on the tampering count. Oesterreicher said Sparks, 44, is going to prison for four years on for the leaving-the-scene count, then he is “going to be placed on probation, probably for five years, on the tampering charge.”

If Sparks violates his probation, the court has the power to revoke his probation and order the execution of his suspended sentence.

Heavenly Grace Hafford

“Originally, I had offered three and three if he pleaded guilty,” with the sentences to be served consecutively, Oesterreicher said. Sparks entered what Oesterreicher described as an “open plea.”

At the time of his plea, Jones ordered a sentencing assessment report by Probation and Parole.

“After reading the (report), Randy Sparks minimized his role completely, so I then chose to go after the full four and four,” Oesterreicher said.

In the report, according to Oesterreicher, Sparks said “he was not the one who killed Heavenly Hafford; it was other people.”

“What I told the judge was using the three R’s. He had no regrets. He had no remorse, and he took no responsibility,” Oesterreicher said.

Oesterreicher said that was the reason he changed his sentencing recommendation.

According to earlier reports, Hafford, 13, died of blunt-force trauma. She was struck by two vehicles at 7:15 p.m. Dec. 9, 2015, as she crossed Kanell Boulevard near the Maud Street intersection. The junior-high student was walking home with a friend. She had been to Mansion Mall to buy shoes for an upcoming school choir recital.

The first vehicle that struck the teen was a rusty, light blue Volkswagen Beetle.

That vehicle was found shortly after the crash. Its driver, Sparks, who was destroying evidence on his vehicle, was arrested.

Authorities said a second vehicle traveling a short distance behind Sparks’ vehicle also ran over Hafford and fled the scene.

That vehicle and driver were found and identified. Benjamin Ressel, 40, was indicted on felony counts of leaving the scene of a motor-vehicle accident and tampering with evidence by a Butler County grand jury in February.

Ressel subsequently was granted a change of venue to Pemiscot County, where his attorneys argued for and were granted judgments of acquittal on his charges.

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