Philip Cuthbertson took the witness stand Friday morning. In a mostly empty courtroom, he talked about the loss of his 19-year-old son, Andrew Cuthbertson, who was killed in a car crash last year.
The Army staff sergeant drove from Fort Bragg in North Carolina to attend. He was in Afghanistan when his son died.
Near Cuthbertson stood Rickey Scroggins, a 23-year-old Bushnell man, who last week pleaded no contest to charges of DUI manslaughter.
Scroggins dabbed his eyes with a tissue as the terms of his sentence were read by Circuit Judge Stephen Rushing: three years in prison, two years of house arrest and five years on probation.
It's a sad, and all-too-familiar courtroom setting.
Andrew Cuthbertson was a passenger in Scroggins' truck when he ran a red light, colliding with a freight truck at Powell Road and U.S. 41.
Scroggins faced at least 15 years in prison but Cuthbertson's mother, who is divorced from his father, agreed to the lesser sentence as the closest next of kin. Philip Cuthbertson believes he was not consulted enough about the eventual sentence.
The courtroom scene is best conveyed by those who lived the tragedy.
Here, in its entirety, is what Philip Cuthbertson told the court:
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"Judge Rushing, ladies and gentlemen of the court, good morning. My statement will be brief and to the point.
"According to statistics released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2007 — the year in which my son was killed — the state of Florida (saw 1,049 deaths) on our state highways due to an accident in which the driver was impaired with a BAC (blood alcohol content) of 0.08 or higher. This accounts for the 27.7 percent of all deaths on Florida's highways. This number is keeping pace with the national average of 31.7 percent.
"I feel these numbers are so high in the state of Florida because of the often too-lenient plea deals like we see today. I was asked once several months ago if I felt the Florida state guidelines would be sufficient to receive a sense of justice and closure. I agreed that they would be.
"This plea deal is not even close to those sentencing guidelines as explained to me. I was not given a chance to voice my opinion on this deal prior to today. For that I feel abandoned by a system that I placed all my faith in to bring justice (and) closure to my family.
"Nothing makes a father prouder than to have his son follow in his footsteps — that's just what Andy did. He followed so closely in my footsteps to include the good and the bad. He joined the Army for the same reason I did: to get his life on track.
"I spent the better part of 15 years serving my country and for that service I missed a lot of Andy's growing up. But I remember clearly the day he called me and asked me about the Army. Well, there are no words to describe the pride I had in my son. Not only did I have pride in him, but so did his half brother Timothy and his stepmother, Jennifer.
"The last time I (saw) Andy was around Christmas 2006. He was on leave. I was so proud of the man he had grown to be. I met his girlfriend, Danika, and heard of their plans to make a life together. We made plans to spend time together as a family. He wanted to get to know the other family that he had in North Carolina after my return from Afghanistan and before his eventual deployment to Iraq. We were both looking forward to reconnecting with each other.
"On April 27, 2007, at 0500 that morning, Mr. Scroggins made an immature and negligent decision that robbed my family of that opportunity. Mr. Scroggins' actions have caused me and my family undue emotional trauma, anguish and stress.
"In the (months) that followed this incident, I have endured mental torment in the forms of nightmares for which I have had to seek professional counseling and have been prescribed medication that has caused significant degradation to my job performance at work.
"And finally, to Mr. Scroggins, in time the pain of your actions will fade and the heart you have shattered will heal and at that time, God willing, I will find the strength to forgive you.
"I will always carry with me, for the rest of my life, an Andy-shaped hole in my heart. Thank you."