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Driver who killed jazz singer Tina Harrison in 2009 DUI crash gets 15 years in prison

TAMPA

The family of Tina Harrison forgave the man who killed her in 2009. Most of them wanted Ryan Carll to go free, to find God, to conquer his addictions.

Carll gratefully told them Monday he wanted to hug them all.

"I want to mow your lawn, do your plumbing," he said. "I want to be there for you."

But Hillsborough Circuit Judge Emmett Battles struggled with the breadth of their forgiveness. The drunken-driving crash that killed Harrison, a jazz and gospel singer with two daughters, "was no accident," he said.

"We have a life lost, children without a mother, and a family that never will be the same. None of it had to happen."

Tina Harrison was a minister's daughter, the choir director at her father's New Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Clearwater. Known to local jazz aficionados as "Tina Lad'e," she was the lead vocalist for the jazz group On Que Players.

Her family filled three rows at Carll's sentencing Monday. The prosecutor asked them who would speak. Only Harrison's oldest daughter would.

Carll, then 25, was out of jail on bail after beating and threatening his fiancee with a gun when he crashed into Harrison's car at a red light on Dale Mabry Highway, north of Carrollwood, in April 2009.

He had mixed prescription pain killers with alcohol while partying that night. He was going almost 80 mph. The crash sent Harrison's car airborne.

She was pronounced dead at St. Joseph's Hospital. Her friend in the passenger seat, LaChan Renae Knowles, was injured. Like most of the family, Knowles kept silent Monday.

But Harrison's eldest daughter, Briana, stepped forward with her silent, weeping sister, LaShay. "I feel differently," she said.

Briana Harrison turned to Carll. "I do forgive you," she said. "I understand you have a son." But she said she couldn't get past what Carll took away. Her mother was only 37. She was a singer and composer, thrilled to have a new jazz recording coming out. She was the star of her church. Briana Harrison asked the judge to give him the maximum.

Before sentencing, Carll faced Tina Harrison's family in tears. Carll said he wanted to give them hugs. He said he had also lost loved ones — a father and a best friend. He knew their pain. "I've learned a lot."

But under questioning by prosecutor Barbara Coleman, Carll admitted to cocaine possession and beating his fiancee in the days prior to plowing into Harrison's car. He admitted to mixing Xanax, Vicodin and vodka before driving that night. He admitted to "anger issues," to a history of traffic offenses and an arrest for a battery on a police officer charge.

Finally, Battles spoke directly to Harrison's family. "You're very forgiving," he said softly.

Looking over at Carll, the judge's voice hardened. "But the court has decisions to make." He said he had reached an inescapable conclusion: "You're going to take responsibility."

Battles sentenced Carll to 15 years in prison, the maximum for DUI manslaughter. He also gave Carll concurrent sentences of five years of probation for the beating of his fiancee and possession of cocaine. And Battles ordered permanent revocation of his driver's license.

John Barry can be reached at jbarry@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3383.

Driver who killed jazz singer Tina Harrison in 2009 DUI crash gets 15 years in prison 11/21/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 22, 2011 12:03am]
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