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A year later, justice in sight

SPRING HILL — Barbara Ward came to Florida the way many of us do. She followed her family.

"She wanted to be around the grandkids," recalled her son, Ken Lugrezia.

Ward rented a mobile home in Spring Hill last winter. Her husband, Gary, who worked as an auto mechanic near their home in New York's Hudson River Valley, planned to work another year or so and then join her.

Then, about 5 a.m, on July 1, 2012, a GMC pickup slammed into the back of Ward's Ford Escort as she drove north on U.S. 19 , authorities say. The force of impact pushed the Escort through the intersection of Spring Hill Drive, over a concrete curb and into a ditch.

Ward died a week later at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point. She was 65. Now, a year later, her family waits for justice for the driver of the truck, 33-year-old Matthew Thomas Horne of Hudson.

"He took a lot away from us," Lugrezia said.

Samples taken after the crash put Horne's blood alcohol level at 0.106, according to a Florida Highway Patrol report. Florida law presumes at 0.08 that someone is unable to safely drive a motor vehicle.

Horne was arrested in May and charged with DUI manslaughter. He spent a week in the Hernando County Detention Center, then posted $5,200 bail.

"He rear-ended the lady, she died as a result of the crash and when blood was taken he was over the legal limit," said Assistant State Attorney Bill Catto said. "That's pretty simple."

Horne pleaded not guilty last month. The judge appointed a public defender after Horne said his mother paid his bail.

A message left by the Times this week at a number listed for Horne was not returned. Assistant Public Defender Laura Drake did not return messages.

Ward grew up in New York, raised three kids and worked on and off as a waitress. She married Gary Ward, her third husband, in 1986.

About three years ago, Lugrezia, his wife Katie and their daughter Ashley moved from New York to Spring Hill. Lugrezia's sister, Cherie, died about five years ago, and Cherie's daughter, Sasha, has lived with the family since then. Lugrezia's brother, Eric, lives in Brooksville.

About the same time, Barbara Ward rented an apartment in Hudson and came down regularly to visit. She was a die-hard Yankees fan who loved to play bingo, whip up pasta dishes and take Sasha and Ashley shopping, Lugrezia said.

"Her grandkids were everything to her," he said. "She spoiled the hell out of them."

Ward moved to the Spring Hill mobile home in March 2012. On the day of the crash, Lugrezia figures she was on her way back from Walmart, getting an early start to beat the crowds.

Witnesses told investigators her car's lights were on "and there was no reason (Horne) could not avoid (her)," the FHP report said.

Horne was treated at Spring Hill Regional Hospital and later released.

Three weeks before the crash, he was arrested in Pinellas County on a charge of possession of oxycodone, records show. The charge was dropped last November. About the same time, he was involved in a crash in Pasco and cited for careless driving. The court withheld adjudication.

According to public information on his Facebook page, Horne is the father of two young boys, loves to fish and drive four-wheel drive pickup trucks.

In a post two months before the Spring Hill crash, Horne describes an encounter with a woman whose car broke down on U.S. 19 in Pasco. Horne said he stopped, let the woman use his phone and waited until her husband arrived.

"They couldn't believe someone did that... That's what's wrong with the world I guess," Horne wrote.

DUI manslaughter is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 in years in state prison. Lugrezia said his family will oppose any plea deal.

Horne is "a grown man," Lugrezia said. "He knows right from wrong and the consequences that come with it."

Times news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Reach Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1431. Follow @tmarrerotimes on Twitter.

A year later, justice in sight 07/02/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 2, 2013 7:00pm]
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