DADE CITY — At the scene of the fiery crash nearly two years ago, the cab of Eli Alvarez's truck was strewn with beer cans, and 8-year-old Kevin Bryant was dead.
It happened late at night on May 10, 2007, at a railroad crossing on County Road 54 in Zephyrhills. Bryant was with his mother in a Mitsubishi SUV, stopped at the tracks for a passing train. Alvarez, authorities said, barrelled into the back of them, no brakes, pushing the SUV into the train. It caught fire and was dragged along the tracks.
Within days, Alvarez was arrested, charged with DUI manslaughter and DUI with serious bodily injury.
This afternoon in a somber courtroom, he pleaded no contest to the charges and was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
He faced a maximum of 21 years if convicted in a trial.
Kevin's family, divided by divorce, sat on opposite sides of the courtroom. His mother, Heather Eres, was gravely injured in the crash. She was too upset to speak.
His father, who shares his son's name, also was too upset to talk.
Assistant State Attorney Manny Garcia addressed the court on their behalf.
"When Mr. Alvarez decided to drive his Toyota Tundra impaired, he made a conscious decision," Garcia said. "As a result of that, they've lost a son. They've lost a grandson. They've lost a nephew. They've lost a friend."
George Lorenzo, Alvarez's attorney, spoke for Alvarez, a 28-year-old laborer who is in the United States illegally.
"This man never intended what happened to you, what happened to your son," Lorenzo said, facing Kevin's family. "I know that doesn't bring any good feelings. I know that doesn't allay the horrible experience."
"He's not asking for forgiveness," Lorenzo continued. "He knows he may never get it. He's praying that somehow some peace can be brought to your family."
Alvarez will likely serve 85 percent of his sentence and get credit for the time he has spent in jail since the crash. Then, he'll almost certainly be deported.
The senior Kevin Bryant said life has been hell without his only child.
"I'm not out playing baseball with him, playing football with him, out on the lake fishing with him," he said. "The main thing is I just miss him more than anything."
Kevin's aunt, Kristy Flynn, said she had lots of things she wanted to say but couldn't.
"He was just the best kid," she said. "He was my kids' best friend. I still want to pick up the phone and call him."
Outside the courtroom, Alvarez's mother cried and hugged Kevin's family members. They had brought a picture collage of him but never held it up in court.
Instead they showed it to her.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6245.