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Pasco crash victim asks court to spare young driver from prison

DADE CITY — A month ago, Johnny Rae Grates wanted a long, harsh punishment for the young woman who got high on drugs and drove her car into his path, injuring him and crippling his girlfriend.

Now he just wants to move on.

Grates and Kristina Greganova were driving to get pizza on Sept. 8, 2008, when authorities say 17-year-old Hannah Nicole Price T-boned them at the intersection of U.S. 301 and County Road 54 in Zephyrhills. Price was charged with two counts of DUI with serious bodily injury after she was found to have alcohol, marijuana and a tranquilizer in her system.

The charges carry a potential sentence of 10 years in prison.

Grates and Greganova came to all of her court hearings. The atmosphere was always tense.

Once, Greganova shouted and cursed at Price from her wheelchair. Price, small and thin, wept into her hands.

Another time, Grates came alone. When the judge asked him where Greganova was, he held up an urn containing her ashes. He said she died last September at age 49 from cancer.

The two met in Tampa when Greganova got into the back of Grates' taxi. After the crash, Grates became her full-time caregiver.

On Thursday, Price was back in court, her Monday trial date looming. She had the option of either pleading to the charges and hoping for leniency from the judge, or taking a chance at trial.

But then Grates stood up.

He didn't want Price to go to prison. Instead, he said he wanted her to get counseling and pay restitution. He wanted her to lose her driver's license for several years.

"I'm trying to move on with my life," Grates told the judge. "I'm trying to get this all past me and just go on."

He said he's moving to New York.

Price, wearing a lavender cardigan and skirt with her hair in a barrette, stood nearby crying.

Before Grates left, she said she wanted to speak to him.

Defense attorneys typically advise their clients not to have any contact with victims so as not to jeopardize the case, so these were the first words Price ever said to Grates.

"There's not one day that goes by that I don't think about you guys," she told him. "I'm very sorry, I'm very sorry."

She promised she would change. She said she wished she could go back to before the crash.

"Oh, you're not the only one," Grates replied.

The hearing ended without any resolution. The lawyers will work out the details of the sentence, and if Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa approves it, Price will be formally sentenced on April 7.

Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6245.

Pasco crash victim asks court to spare young driver from prison 03/18/10 [Last modified: Thursday, March 18, 2010 9:17pm]
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