Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Drunken driver who killed two in New Port Richey gets 35 years in prison

NEW PORT RICHEY — Shannon Stephen said he waited four years to apologize to the families of two people he killed driving drunk early one morning in March 2006.

The families of Sarah Gleason and Joe Swiech waited too — to see Stephen go to prison.

And on Wednesday night, after two hours of testimony from both sides, Stephen, 38, of Holiday was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

"This is a tragedy for all involved. There is no question," Circuit Judge Shawn Crane said.

Stephen was convicted in May of two counts of DUI manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident involving death.

Gleason and Swiech were walking arm in arm along Grand Boulevard in New Port Richey after the city's annual Chasco Fiesta on March 26, 2006. They had been drinking and decided to walk home. Prosecutors said Stephen also had been drinking but insisted on driving. He struck them in his pickup and sped off.

Swiech, 26, died instantly. Gleason, 24, was taken to a hospital, where she died. They had planned to marry one day.

No one could identify Stephen as the driver when the couple was struck. But prosecutors put on witnesses who said he was drunk and belligerent leaving a bar. The jury also heard from witnesses who said they pulled a staggering, drunken Stephen from the driver's seat of his damaged truck about a mile from where Gleason and Swiech were hit.

Hours after the crash, authorities said, Stephen's blood-alcohol level measured three times the level of presumed impairment.

He went to trial in 2008, but it ended with a deadlocked jury.

Stephen's friends, family and co-workers said he spent the time since the crash working as an insurance adjuster and carrying the gravity of his actions around with him.

"Every single day Shannon and I talk about Joe and Sarah," Stephen's mother, Shelley Stephen, said. "My heart bleeds for you because your children are still gone."

Swiech had worked at a day care center, where the kids called him "Mr. Joe."

His father, Jim, held up a poster-sized card several kids made after his death, bearing messages like, "I remember the first day I came here, you made me feel so welcome," and "Thank you for always helping me."

Gleason, her aunt said, worked since she was a teenager and had just landed a job with Verizon right before she was killed.

The day Sarah was buried, Joanne Gleason testified, "I remember thinking she was supposed to start her career at Verizon."

Stephen faced a maximum of 45 years in prison. His attorney, Kenneth Foote, had asked for five years in prison followed by 20 years of probation and a requirement that he speak to young people about the dangers of drunken driving.

Stephen, who claimed he hasn't had a single drink of alcohol since the crash, said he will always owe a debt to Swiech's and Gleason's families.

"There is not a day that goes by that I do not think about Joe and Sarah and about you. I wish I could relive that day and do things differently," he told the families. "I am so truly sorry."

Molly Moorhead can be reached at or (727) 869-6245.

Drunken driver who killed two in New Port Richey gets 35 years in prison 07/14/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 14, 2010 11:55pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Car bomb kills 13, injures 24 in Baghdad; Islamic State claims responsibility


    BAGHDAD — A car bomb exploded outside a popular ice cream shop in central Baghdad just after midnight today, killing 13 people and wounding 24, hospital and police officials said.

  2. Leaping shark floors angler in Australia


    In The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway's protagonist battles for three days to pull in his prized catch. For Terry Selwood, it came a little more suddenly.

    A 9-foot shark lies on the deck of a fishing boat at Evans Head, Australia on Sunday. Fisherman Terry Selwood said he was left with a badly bruised and bleeding right arm where the shark struck him with a fin as it landed on him on the deck. [Lance Fountain via AP]
  3. Rays rally twice to beat Rangers (w/video)

    The Heater

    ARLINGTON, Texas — Starting Erasmo Ramirez on Monday after he closed out Sunday's marathon win turned out, despite the Rays' best intentions and rigid insistence, to be a bad idea as he gave up four runs without getting through three innings.

    Erasmo Ramirez, starting a day after closing a 15-inning marathon, struggles against the Rangers and comes out after throwing 43 pitches in 21/3 innings.
  4. Britain investigating missed signals over Manchester bomber


    LONDON — Britain's domestic intelligence agency, MI5, is investigating its response to warnings from the public about the threat posed by Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber who killed 22 people and wounded dozens more in an attack at a crowded Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, last week.

    People gather Monday at St. Ann’s Square in Manchester, England, to view tributes to victims of the suicide bombing that killed 22 on May 22 as a concert by Ariana Grande was concluding.
  5. Trump condemns killing of pair who tried to stop racist rant


    The mayor of Portland, Ore., on Monday urged U.S. officials and organizers to cancel a "Trump Free Speech Rally" and other similar events, saying they are inappropriate and could be dangerous after two men were stabbed to death on a train as they tried to help a pair of young women targeted by an anti-Muslim tirade.

    Coco Douglas, 8, leaves a handmade sign and rocks she painted at a memorial in Portland, Ore., on Saturday for two bystanders who were stabbed to death Friday while trying to stop a man who was yelling anti-Muslim slurs and acting aggressively toward two young women. From left are Coco's brother, Desmond Douglas; her father, Christopher Douglas; and her stepmother, Angel Sauls. [Associated Press]