Driver sentenced to life for wrong-way crash that killed St. Petersburg College student

For swerving his car toward police officers, speeding the wrong way up Interstate 275, smashing into an oncoming car and killing a passenger, Charles Hicks was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison.

A jury took less than an hour to find Hicks guilty of second-degree murder, vehicular homicide, aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, fleeing and eluding and driving with a suspended license.

"I'm glad the jury came up with the verdict they did," said Timothy Joslin, grandfather of Steven Cornell, who was killed in the September 2007 crash. But he called it "very small consolation for the loss of Steven."

"I just feel relieved," said Margaret Alexander, who is engaged to Cornell's father.

Assistant State Attorney Scott Rosenwasser said the verdict was appropriate in "one of the most egregious cases I've prosecuted, based on the callousness of his actions."

Cornell was 22, a St. Petersburg College student who had been a popular student and basketball player at Seminole High School. He was riding south on I-275 in a car driven by his sister when the crash occurred.

Witnesses testified that Hicks had driven recklessly along 18th Avenue S and 22nd Street in St. Petersburg and drove head-on toward a police officer before speeding onto I-275 and driving north in the southbound lanes. That's when he smashed into the car in which Cornell was a passenger.

Because Hicks had been released from prison less than a year before, he faced a stiffer penalty than normal. Life in prison was the only possible sentence for his murder conviction. Hicks, 34, received varying sentences for the other crimes.

Even though Hicks was sentenced to life in prison, Judge Richard Luce made a point also to suspend his driver's license for life. He did so even as he noted that Hicks had twice previously been convicted of driving with a suspended license and "it hasn't meant anything to you in the past, you still drove."

Curtis Krueger can be reached at (727) 893-8232 or ckrueger@sptimes.com.

Driver sentenced to life for wrong-way crash that killed St. Petersburg College student 04/21/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 21, 2009 10:30pm]

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