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Anti-DUI activist gets 4-year prison term

Laura Gorman, left, and Jessica Rasdall went clubbing together the night of the fatal crash.

Family photo

Laura Gorman, left, and Jessica Rasdall went clubbing together the night of the fatal crash.

LARGO — Over the last two years, Jessica Rasdall has spoken to 15,000 teens about the dangers of drinking and driving.

A Web site she launched about the subject has received 75,000 hits.

She has appeared at city council meetings to urge leaders to pass laws banning underage people from bars.

But on Friday morning, Rasdall went to prison.

Judge Timothy Peters sentenced Rasdall, 21, to four years in prison after she pleaded no contest to a charge of driving-under-the-influence manslaughter. She also will serve two years of probation.

Rasdall, a University of South Florida student, was intoxicated when she lost control of her car on Interstate 275 on Feb. 25, 2006. Her best friend, Laura Gorman, an 18-year-old Eckerd College student, was killed.

Gorman's parents had asked for at least the minimum sentence of about 10 years in prison.

But Rasdall and her parents had asked Peters to depart from the minimum guideline. Over the last year, they have asked for probation, house arrest or boot camp.

Rasdall in that time has talked to dozens of schools and colleges about the accident. She often says directly that she killed her best friend. Her talks have generated 3,000 letters of support from teens and parents.

She hoped Peters would spare her prison so she could continue those efforts.

"My message is powerful because I am young and teens still view me as their peer and think 'this could actually happen to me,' " Rasdall told Peters in court Friday morning. "It is powerful because, ultimately, it's a story of two best friends, and every teen understands the love that best friends share for one another."

But Peters said his sentence would include prison time. He noted that prosecutors had presented evidence in previous hearings that Rasdall had driven drunk on occasions before the night of the fatal accident.

But Peters found mitigating factors as well. Rasdall and Gorman both had gone to a club dancing that night and had accepted alcoholic drinks from an adult bar employee — even though both were 18.

Peters also found that Rasdall's young age was a mitigating factor, as was her remorse and her "extensive activities to campaign against DUI," he said.

"Hopefully this will prevent, at least to some degree, this tragedy from happening to other families," the judge said.

Gorman's father, Rod, declined to comment after the sentencing.

Rasdall's father, Don, said he has been preparing for the possibility of his daughter going to prison. Despite her mistake the night of the crash, he is proud of her for her efforts after it happened.

"It's a serious crime, and you need to pay the penalty for it," he said. "But she was able to pick up the pieces … and make as much of a change as she could."

Don Rasdall said he and his wife will keep up their daughter's Web site while she serves her sentence. He said his daughter plans to continue her education efforts when her prison term is over.

Anti-DUI activist gets 4-year prison term 05/23/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 30, 2008 11:53am]

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