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Driver's 'I'm sorry' doesn't ease pain for widow, survivor

TAMPA — Elizabeth Lockwood knew that nothing could bring back her husband after he was hit by a car and killed in April.

But that didn't quench her desire for something — an apology, an explanation, a mirror to her suffering.

So she sat in a courtroom on Aug. 2, holding a framed photo of 58-year-old Glen Lockwood and waited to hear what Myrline Gourdet-Numa had to say.

Gourdet-Numa pleaded no contest to a careless driving citation. A judge enumerated her penalties. Then she left.

"It was like we weren't even there," said Elizabeth Lockwood, 59, Glen's wife of 23 years and director of operations for the South Florida Wildlife Center. "It was a slap in the face."

• • •

On April 10, Glen Lockwood drove to 9942 Peninsular Drive in Gibsonton, as he had done several times before, to inspect the dock that Michael DiGiovanni was building from scratch.

The project was chugging along. And as a Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission employee, Lockwood had to make sure it wasn't harmful to the canal.

Lockwood and DiGiovanni were standing in the driveway, behind Lockwood's county pickup truck, inspecting documents when the unimaginable happened.

Myrline Gourdet-Numa, 32, drove her car off the roadway, through a yard and into DiGiovanni's driveway, striking Lockwood's truck. According to the official crash report, the force of the collision pushed the truck, slamming it into both men and throwing them to the ground.

When Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies arrived, they saw Gourdet-Numa running in circles, they said. They described her as "distraught, panicked and hysterical."

She told Detective John C. Graves that she had been driving down the road when all of a sudden she looked up and saw the men standing on the other side of the county truck. It was too late. She couldn't stop the crash. She couldn't explain why she went off the road or what happened during the seconds before the impact.

After weeks at a lab, drug and alcohol tests of Gourdet-Numa's blood confirmed that she was sober at the time. Graves issued her a careless driving citation.

Lockwood died the next day, the day before his 59th birthday.

DiGiovanni suffered a brain injury and spent six days in the hospital before being discharged, said his wife, Mary DiGiovanni, 53.

"He's still suffering a lot," Mary DiGiovanni said. "He has survivor's guilt because he's still here. He thought of Glen as a friend because they had been working together on the dock."

• • •

Myrline Gourdet-Numa said she doesn't speak much English, but she had clear memories of that day in April. She told her cousin Jude Gourdet-Numa, 66, who acted as her interpreter in court, that after the crash she saw both DiGiovanni and Lockwood get up. Jude Gourdet-Numa said the man who had been driving the truck asked her why she had hit it.

"There weren't any serious injuries at that time. They both got up," he said. "How could she know someone died after that?"

Both said the Sheriff's Office never told them.

• • •

The citation was issued a month after the crash. More serious charges would not be warranted, legal experts said.

"For manslaughter, there has to be some sort of recklessness, or negligence plus something else," said Delano Stewart, a lawyer who has practiced in Florida for 47 years. "If she had run a light or been under the influence, then manslaughter would have fit."

Stewart also said that because it's unclear what caused the crash — such as whether Gourdet-Numa blacked out or had a medical condition — culpable negligence cannot be found.

Mary DiGiovanni said financial recourse is also limited. Gourdet-Numa is a Haitian immigrant and Walmart employee working an overnight shift.

"We're really not sure what to do," Mary DiGiovanni said. "And I'm dumbfounded to be hit with this kind of problem. It's becoming a really big struggle for us."

Her husband recently returned to work as a contract coordinator for Rooms To Go, limited to six hours a day.

"He's in constant pain. The swelling in his brain isn't expected to go down for at least a year," she said. "Then we'll get to see if there was permanent damage."

Elizabeth Lockwood said she understood when Detective Graves told her about Gourdet-Numa's citation. "An accident is an accident," she said.

But it still hurt that the crash happened to her husband.

"He was just doing his job."

• • •

During the brief Aug. 2 hearing, detectives could see that Lockwood and the DiGiovannis were getting visibly upset.

"They asked us to step outside so we wouldn't be held in contempt," Mary DiGiovanni said.

Gourdet-Numa was fined $1,093 and ordered to traffic school, according to the Hillsborough County Clerk of the Circuit Court's Office. No addendum was made to her driving record. No revocation of her license. No recommendation for a medical checkup.

"The judge didn't even acknowledge that the accident involved a death," Elizabeth Lockwood said.

In the hallway, the women and Michael DiGiovanni approached Gourdet-Numa and her interpreter. They asked her to look at the photo of Lockwood.

Michael DiGiovanni asked whether she was sorry for what happened. After a prompt from the interpreter, Gourdet-Numa said, "I'm sorry."

Jude Gourdet-Numa said that was the first time his cousin had heard about a death. She hadn't apologized earlier because of a Haitian custom, he said.

"In Haiti, if you go to someone's family to apologize for something like this, they kill you," he said. "The (detective) in his judgment saw that it was not a big case. He didn't give the citation for 30 days because there was no need for it until after the death."

After four months of waiting to hear from her, it wasn't enough for Elizabeth Lockwood.

"She could have taken that time to offer apologies," Elizabeth Lockwood said, "but she didn't even seem remorseful."

Driver's 'I'm sorry' doesn't ease pain for widow, survivor 09/03/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 4, 2012 8:32am]

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