NEW PORT RICHEY — Michael Richard Long cried on the witness stand as he described his regret in leaving the scene after driving into two pedestrians on U.S. 19, killing one.
If he could, he said, he would trade places with Christopher Mosgaard, who died in the road on Feb. 13.
On Friday morning, when he was facing a prison sentence after pleading guilty in the case, Long, 47, was found dead in his Port Richey apartment.
Sheriff's investigators say they think he hanged himself.
News of his suicide came to light after Circuit Judge Michael Andrews, noting that Long had failed to show up in court, sentenced him to 20 years in prison.
Authorities say Long was the driver who struck two people Feb. 13 as they tried to walk across U.S. 19 in Port Richey about 11:30 p.m.
At the first part of his sentencing hearing on Sept. 25, Long testified that he was driving home from dinner that night at the Seaside Inn when he saw a flash and felt something hit the side of his four-door Chevy. He went into a state of shock and panic, he said, and drove home. There, he sat in his living room crying and trembling, not realizing that hours were ticking by.
The next morning around sunrise he finally jolted back to awareness, he said. He went outside and looked at his car, saw that it was damaged and called police.
"I was in a daze and snapped out of it," he said, often breaking down into tears.
A psychologist diagnosed him with something akin to post-traumatic stress disorder.
"He can't get it out of his mind," Dr. Richard Carpenter testified. "He can't sleep."
But Andrews wasn't convinced of Long's paralyzed state of mind after the accident. The judge wondered if the two beers Long said he drank at dinner were more a factor in his decision to flee the accident.
Prosecutors said Long, who had recently moved to Florida from Ohio, was charged with DUI in a crash in Ohio in 1989.
"I have every reason to believe alcohol was involved (in the February crash)," Andrews said.
Mosgaard, 46, had met Kimberly Stewart earlier that day. The two were walking across the highway at Ridge Road when they were struck. Mosgaard died at the scene. He had mental health problems and had been living on the streets, Assistant State Attorney Chris Jensen said.
Stewart, who was 38 at the time of the accident, testified that she remembered lying injured in the road hearing traffic whiz past and thinking she might be hit again. She spent seven weeks in a trauma center, had her pelvis rebuilt, received 30 stitches in her head and now can walk only short distances. Stewart, who used to work in home health, now uses a wheelchair sometimes and can no longer work or care for herself or her two daughters.
"It's been really hard," she said. "I try to be as independent as I can."
Still, she said she didn't want Long to go to prison, calling what he did "a mistake." Instead, she hoped to win some restitution that would help her survive.
She has a lawsuit against Long's automobile insurance to cover her medical bills, but that won't pay for rent and groceries.
"I need help," she said.
As part of the sentence, Andrews ordered Long to pay more than $66,000 in restitution to Stewart.
As Friday's sentencing hearing moved along without him, Long's attorney, Dennis Watson, told the judge Long had been depressed. Watson said he spoke to Long Thursday night but then couldn't reach him Friday morning.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6245.