BROOKSVILLE — Karen Macchione insisted until the end that a ringing phone, not the methadone coursing through her veins, caused her to plow into a construction zone and kill a man two years ago.
"I am truly sorry," the 47-year-old Brooksville woman said during her sentencing hearing Tuesday. "I'm guilty of reaching down for a cellphone. If I could take it back, I would, but I can't."
Moments later, Hernando Circuit Judge Anthony Tatti reminded Macchione that a jury found her guilty last month of driving under the influence of a controlled substance and killing 28-year-old Steven Thompson Jr. Then, as Macchione's children and Thompson's father looked on, Tatti sentenced her to 15 years in prison, the maximum penalty for DUI manslaughter.
Macchione was heading west on Spring Hill Drive near the Suncoast Parkway on the afternoon of Nov. 8, 2011, when her Dodge Ram pickup veered into a closed lane where workers were painting lane markers. The truck hit Thompson of Dade City and hurled him into the eastbound lanes. He died a short time later.
Macchione is disabled and was prescribed a litany of medications for several ailments, including back pain, fibromyalgia and arthritis. Though she had a prescribed bottle of methadone in her purse at the time of the crash, she testified that she had not taken the drug that morning.
Florida Highway Patrol troopers at the scene said she appeared drowsy. The most damning piece of evidence: a recorded interview with a traffic homicide investigator at the scene. Macchione sounded scattered, slurred her words and nodded off.
A forensic toxicologist testified that the amount of methadone in blood samples taken at the scene was on the low end of the therapeutic range, but that the type of symptoms Macchione exhibited were consistent with methadone impairment.
At Tuesday's hearing, Macchione's mother and sister said they know she wasn't impaired that day and asked Tatti for leniency.
Catherine Judd of Spring Hill said her sister has a master's degree in social services and counseled inmates at the women's prison on Spring Hill Drive before her disabilities left her unable to work.
Later, Judd said, Macchione volunteered as a counselor at a clinic for indigent patients.
Judd said Macchione was already grieving the recent deaths of her father and husband when the crash happened. Macchione is a mother of seven, including three biological children and one adopted son. Three are younger than 18.
After the crash, Judd said, Macchione sought her own counseling.
"She really was so overcome with grief," Judd said.
Steven Thompson Sr., who drove from Pennsylvania for the hearing, took the stand and asked for justice. He said Macchione didn't seem remorseful.
"Just as we paid, so should the defendant," Thompson said. "Our souls have been shredded by the loss of Junior."
Sentencing guidelines called for a minimum prison term of 10 years. Noting Macchione's health issues and lack of criminal record, defense attorney Scott Smith asked Tatti to depart from those guidelines and levy a minimal amount of prison time, plus probation and community service.
Assistant State Attorney Bill Catto told the judge that Macchione had shown a "lack of insight" about how her medication impaired her. He said the maximum sentence would be justified.
At the end of the hearing, Macchione's family watched quietly as a bailiff took her fingerprints and led her away. Before they filed out of the courtroom, one of Macchione's sons looked over at Thompson.
"I'm sorry for y'all family's loss," he said.
Tony Marrero can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431. Follow @tmarrerotimes on Twitter.