TAMPA — Not long before Joanna Lynn Kinchen sped through a red light with a large dose of Captain Morgan rum in her bloodstream, a friend suggested that she should cut back on her drinking.
But it took killing a stranger for Kinchen to realize she had a problem.
She stood in court Monday, ready to admit her guilt, her remorse, her shame. She sobbed as she apologized to the survivors of Glen Michael Laurent, who lived to make people smile and died seven days after meeting his soulmate.
"I'm very sorry that I took your son away from you," she said. "I'm very sorry that I took your love. I never meant to cross your path in this negative way."
Assistant State Attorney Kim Seace wasn't convinced that the remorse was genuine and called Kinchen a danger to society. Laurent's parents and girlfriend said they could forgive but not without justice first.
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Robert Foster said he sensed that the Nov. 1, 2006, crash had changed Kinchen. The change came too late: He sentenced her to 15 years in prison and five years of probation on charges of DUI manslaughter and DUI serious bodily injury.
"When you got in that car and drove, it's no different than putting a bullet in a gun and pulling a trigger," Foster said. "I have a daughter and son, and it scares me to death when they go out at night because of …"
"Me," Kinchen whispered.
"That's right," the judge said.
Kinchen, 28, and Laurent, 29, traveled different roads.
She began breaking the law and abusing drugs and alcohol starting at a young age. She admitted Monday to stealing from an employer, violating probation and getting jailed on an outstanding warrant while six months pregnant.
He loved animals and music and aimed to be the best at everything he tried. A car salesman at Brandon Mitsubishi, he carried in his wallet tips on spreading kindness and positive life affirmations, including this: "Love surrounds and guides us all."
The night he died, Laurent had a spaghetti dinner at the home of his new girlfriend, Nuvia Zamora. He told his parents she might be "the one."
At 7:18 p.m., Laurent turned his Acura Integra from Causeway Boulevard onto U.S. 301, headed with Zamora to his Wimauma home to feed his dog, Don Juan. Kinchen's Mercury Sable ran through a red light and smashed into his driver's side door.
Laurent died at Tampa General Hospital. Zamora suffered broken bones.
Kinchen, a Beef O'Brady's waiter from East Tampa, was driving more than 70 mph in a 40 mph zone. Blood tests showed marijuana in her system. Her blood-alcohol level registered at 0.189, more than twice the level at which Florida law considers a driver impaired.
She told officers that she had been driving to pick up her 3-year-old son from his father's house. On Monday, she said that was the alcohol talking.
As part of her 200 hours of community service, the judge ordered Kinchen to talk to people about the dangers of drinking and driving.
Laurent had warned his parents about drunken drivers around his home. But two weeks after he died, they received their son's new vanity license plate in the mail. It read: "Lucky 57."
"That's how he felt about life," said his father, William Laurent. "That he was lucky."
Colleen Jenkins can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3337.