A renowned dancer in his home country of Myanmar, William Yar Parke left behind a life of celebrity to become a doctor in the United States.
His journey brought him to Las Vegas, but he wasn’t depending on luck. A UNLV honors student, Parke paid for classes by working as a real estate agent and restaurant manager, family and former employers said.
But just one semester before graduation, as his American dream inched ever closer, the 25-year-old’s life ended with a sucker punch.
Parke was on the Strip on Dec. 28 to celebrate his girlfriend’s birthday. But the celebration turned confrontational and, eventually, deadly.
Metro responded to a call about a battery in the early morning hours that day to The Venetian on the Strip.
When officers arrived, Parke was unconscious on the floor near an elevator.
Police were told another man had blindsided him with a blow to the left side of his face.
Parke was taken to Sunrise Hospital, where he underwent brain surgery, police said.
“You couldn’t even recognize him at the hospital,” said Parke’s mother, Grace Aye. “There was so much swelling.”
In the end, doctors couldn’t save Parke. He died the next day. The Clark County coroner’s office ruled Parke’s death a homicide, resulting from blunt force trauma to the head.
DANCER LOVED FAMILY
News of Parke’s death reached his home country in southeast Asia, making headlines in national newspapers such as Oasis and the Mandalay Gazette, a Burmese-language publication based in Canoga Park, Calif.
Parke was known in Myanmar as a traditional dancer, his mother said, and had been a regular performer for government leaders in the former capital city of Yangon.
But he moved to Las Vegas, after living in Guam, in 2005 — and like most kids, went to high school. He graduated from Spring Valley High School in 2009.
While studying biology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Parke worked at Sonny Sushi Co. on West Oquendo Road, southwest of Russel Road and Decatur Boulevard.
Sonny Sushi owner Sann Ni said it was obvious Parke was raised to value family and hard work.
When Parke’s father, a Buddhist, followed a calling to become a monk at the Chaiya Meditation Monastery in the south valley, Ni said, Parke made a concerted effort to keep his mother company.
“He made the money, he paid for things, he really cared,” Ni said. “He put family and friends before everything else.”
Parke could also be assertive, which a police report suggests did not sit well with the men charged with killing him.
As his girlfriend Nicole Fontanilla’s 21st birthday party wore into the early morning hours, police said, Venetian security asked celebrators to keep the noise down.
But the partygoers — which included Parke, Fontanilla and her family, Alex Vongsouphanh, 21, and Rikki Klein-Lopez, 22 — were still too loud, a police report said, prompting a second visit from security.
This time, police said, security advised nonfamily to leave.
Parke took matters into his own hands, asking Vongsouphanh, Klein-Lopez and “several other subjects” to leave, according to the police report. Vongsouphanh and Klein-Lopez, who considered themselves close enough to Fontanilla to be “family,” police said, were insulted by Parke’s demand.
They left, police said, but didn’t go far.
Vongsouphanh, Klein-Lopez and “several associates” left the suite but stayed in The Venetian, police said. When the party ended just before 3 a.m., Parke, Fontanilla and the other guests reconvened in the hotel’s valet lobby.
Parke and Fontanilla left the group and headed toward a nearby elevator, police said.
But Vongsouphanh and Klein-Lopez were following in hot pursuit, and Klein-Lopez “aggressively” approached Parke, police said. Fontanilla stepped in, trying to hold back Klein-Lopez from Parke.
While both Parke and Fontanilla focused on Klein-Lopez, police said, Vongsouphanh stepped to Parke’s left side and delivered a fatal haymaker.
Upon impact with Vongsouphanh’s right fist, police said, Parke’s neck snapped, and his head stuck the stone floor.
As Parke laid unconscious, police said, Klein-Lopez stood over him, shouting.
‘DIDN’T SEE IT COMING’
Both Clark County Chief Deputy District Attorney Frank Coumou and Public Defender Norm Reed, who represents Vongsouphanh, confirmed Metro’s account of the deadly assault.
Parke was helpless and unprepared for the punch that took his life, they said.
“He really didn’t see it coming,” Reed said.
Klein-Lopez’s attorney David Fischer declined to offer his take on what happened.
On April 28, Vongsouphanh and Klein-Lopez pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, which carries a sentence of 12 to 48 months in prison.
It’s a downgrade from the original charges, Coumou said, which included open murder. Other initial charges included battery resulting in substantial bodily harm and conspiracy to commit battery.
The two are scheduled for a June 18 sentencing.
“It doesn’t appear either of the two individuals had any intent to kill. They just wanted to beat him up,” Coumou said. “It’s the most tragic and horrific case I’ve had to deal with this year.”
Both Vongsouphanh and Klein-Lopez declined interviews from Clark County Detention Center.
Nobody else is being sought in connection with Parke’s death, Coumou said.
On April 2, Parke’s mother filed a lawsuit in Clark County District Court alleging negligence against The Venetian and parent company Las Vegas Sands Corp.
Venetian security would have prevented Parke’s death by acting within “standards in the industry,” Ramzy Ladah, a Las Vegas personal injury attorney representing Aye, told the Review-Journal.
The case seeks “in excess of $10,000” in damage for Parke’s death, but Ladah said he hopes for an eight-figure compensation.
“This is a high-value case considering Mr. Parke’s stature and future,” Ladah said. “It goes to the million-dollar range and potentially tens of millions.”
The Venetian and Las Vegas Sands Corporation have not filed a response, according to court records, and a representative was not available for comment.
Nearly six months after Parke’s death, the loss is still fresh for those who knew him best.
“He was my backbone,” said Fontanilla, who started dating Parke in 2011. “One of the smartest and most talented people I’ve ever met.”
Above all, friends and family are mourning a life Parke’s unfulfilled potential.
“William could have been anything he wanted to,” Ni, his former boss, said.
“Maybe not the president, but at least a senator or congressman.”
For now, Parke’s mother said she finds peace believing her son will wake up reincarnated in another family.
But as Parke’s not-so-distant memory lives on, Aye said he wasn’t the only person who died.
“In a way, that killed all of us,” Aye said. “It’s so lonely, and just still so crazy.”
Contact Chris Kudialis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0283. Follow @kudialisrj on Twitter.