TAMPA — The little girl peered out the window of the car on the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway. She was on these very lanes two years ago, headed to the beach to celebrate her mother's birthday.
Summer Moll was 4 then and hadn't yet learned what it felt like to have pins hold her tiny legs together, or a head wound that just wouldn't heal, or the knowledge that when mommies go to heaven, they don't return.
Summer, now 6, knows the exact spot where it all changed.
"Right there," she pointed, at a sign memorializing her 24-year-old mother, Jennifer O'Boyle.
"The girl hit cones and then hit us," she said.
Cheryl Maria Riemann downed half a bottle of vodka and ate cookie dough before heading to see a stranger who planned to pay for sex. Her blood-alcohol level was at 0.244 percent when those cones tumbled, and she barreled into oncoming traffic.
They crashed head-on.
Riemann, 28, also passed the expressway crash scene Tuesday, this time in a jail van. She already pleaded guilty, and now it was time for her Hillsborough County court sentencing.
It was time for her to face Summer.
• • •
The courtroom was packed with cameras, lawyers and bailiffs. Summer's family filled the right side. Riemann's took the left. About 1:40 p.m., a door opened and Riemann emerged.
Summer watched the woman in chains sit at the defense table. Riemann looked back and saw the girl with half her hair gone, a spiderweb of scars exposed. Summer had worn a jacket and pants outside, but now, her sundress revealed more wounds.
Riemann lowered her head and wiped her eyes.
For the next three hours, the judge would hear mental health experts explain what childhood trauma may have led the driver to do what she did.
He would hear her sister apologize on behalf of their family, and Riemann say she wished she had been the one to die.
He would hear from the people devastated by the crash, but how one little girl proved resilient.
And, for the first time, he would see for himself the scars on her head that won't go away.
The first witness was a licensed psychologist who had met with Riemann two times in jail.
Eldra Solomon rattled off details of Riemann's youth:
Abandoned by her mother, bounced between foster care placements and family members, abused physically and possibly sexually.
At 2, Riemann suffered a fractured femur that appeared to be an inflicted injury.
At 5, her parents' rights were terminated.
At 6, she was placed with a potential adoptive family but ended up enduring more abuse.
She eventually was adopted but began self-medicating in her early teens with drugs and alcohol. Psychologist Mark A. Ruiz testified she developed a severe addiction to methamphetamine, a drug that damages the part of the brain that controls emotions and makes decisions.
By Sept. 10, 2008, Riemann had lost her job and separated from her husband, the father of the two sons she had by age 17. Her car was about to get repossessed. She needed money. She was going to give sex to get it. But that reality so appalled her, Solomon said, that she drank.
The grown-ups sat still and listened, but Summer needed a break. A bailiff took her to an empty courtroom where she got to sit in a judge's big leather chair and hit stuff with his gavel.
Then, the real judge was ready to see her.
From behind the bench, the man in the robe looked tall. Summer traced his nameplate, which said he was Circuit Judge Daniel Sleet, and asked, "Why's your name there?"
He smiled, and said, "Some people forget my name."
Prosecutor Barbara Coleman said the girl's grandmother thought it was important for him to see Summer. Photos didn't do justice.
"How are you feeling?" he asked Summer. "Good," she said.
Summer turned to face the packed courtroom and smiled before bailiffs escorted her to the waiting car of a family friend.
Then the judge heard the real story.
• • •
Sheriff's Deputy Brian Sherman arrived at the crash just after it happened. O'Boyle's car was silent. He could tell she had died and thought the child pinned in the back was gone, too.
Then he heard Summer cry.
Her injuries have been well-documented. The crash broke Summer's arms, legs, pelvis, eyeball socket and skull. The latter injury has proven the most difficult to treat. After enduring more than a dozen surgeries already, she will require at least four to six more, said her plastic surgeon, Dr. Daniel Diaco.
"She will never walk normally," he said. "She will be permanently delayed. She will never be as smart as the other kids her age. She will never be able to run as fast as other kids her age. And her face will always be deformed.
"This girl is in constant pain," he said, "and will never be the same."
"Will she grow hair in that area?" Sleet asked the doctor.
"No, sir, she will not. She will always have a bald spot on the front part of her skull."
Others spoke, too, and their words moved even a burly deputy to tears. Those who loved O'Boyle said Summer's strength had helped make them strong.
Still, they know Summer is hurting. Her grandmother, Tammy Rosian, O'Boyle's mother, said she tries each day to tell her granddaughter she is beautiful.
But Rosian knows that when Summer talks to others, she points to her own head and says, "I'm ugly because of this."
• • •
Finally, it was Riemann's turn to speak. She clutched two letters, and in a small voice, read the first to the victims' family. She asked their forgiveness and offered no excuses.
"I know that no matter how much time passes, I can never make up for what I've done and what I've put Summer and Jennifer through," she said. "This will haunt me and shame me for the rest of my life."
Turning next to Sleet, she said, "I realize how bad I've messed up."
Her attorney said Riemann had expressed remorse from the start and had wanted to avoid putting the family through a trial. The attorney asked the judge to craft a sentence that balanced the punishment she deserved with treatment she needed.
Sleet said he thought it important to juxtapose Riemann with O'Boyle and her daughter.
"Jennifer was a single mom who didn't blame anybody," he said. "You had two kids you couldn't keep . . . because you were too selfish and on drugs."
After enduring her own difficult childhood, Riemann had destroyed Summer's, the judge told her.
He sentenced her to 15 years in prison for DUI manslaughter and five years of probation for DUI with serious bodily injury and ordered her to perform 500 hours of community service, with most of it spent talking to students.
As the judge spoke, Summer was across town, playing with friends.
Rosian would pick her up, and they'd go to Cracker Barrel, and during dinner, the grandmother would still be considering just what to tell Summer about the day they'd had.
Riemann left the courtroom, but the face of Summer would remain with her, by judge's order.
In prison, and throughout her probation, Riemann must carry a photo of the girl and her mother.