LARGO — Five teenage friends were riding in a Jeep from Clearwater to Oldsmar, when two started arguing.
It was no big deal — until Alexander Page pulled out a .22-caliber handgun and inexplicably fired into the back of the head of the driver, Deaonna Tarver, 17.
Miraculously, Tarver has recuperated well, although she still carries some bullet fragments that could cause health problems later.
On Friday, more than four years after the 2007 shooting in Safety Harbor, it was time for Page to learn his fate.
Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Richard Luce sentenced Page to 20 years in prison, under laws that require him to serve the full 20 years, with no time off for good behavior. Page, of Clearwater, was 16 at the time of the shooting and is 20 now.
Luce said the law gave him two options: He could declare Page a "youthful offender" and sentence him to up to six years in prison. Otherwise, he would have to sentence Page to the full 20 years.
"This is a very hard case," Luce said. But faced with the choice between six years and 20, the judge said six simply wasn't enough.
"To impose a six-year sentence would be saying the facts are only worth six years," Luce said.
This case, he said, was more serious than that and could very easily have turned out far worse.
"You pull a trigger, a bullet is discharged out of the barrel, and it went and penetrated a young woman's head," Luce said. "Those are the facts, undisputed. It's a miracle that she did not die. It's a miracle that she's not in a wheelchair or on life support today."
Defense attorney Grady Irvin had negotiated with prosecutors, who came down from the normal sentence the case would have carried — somewhere between 25 years to life. Irvin had been trying for more reductions, but prosecutors refused to go below 20 years. He will get credit for time already served in the Pinellas County Jail.
Luce said he granted extra time for negotiations in the case, because "I had hoped that someone in charge would see fit to give you further relief."
Prosecutors could have agreed to a lesser sentence such as 15 years in prison, but the judge could not impose it on his own.
Irvin on Friday urged Luce to consider the youthful offender designation and the six-year sentence. He noted Page previously had "no history whatsoever of violence, none" and said Page could become a productive member of society. He acknowledged the "very, very sad situation."
But Assistant State Attorney Frank Piazza said Tarver's life was "forever altered." Because of bullet fragments that could injure her, she is not able to go on amusement park rides, ski or jump off diving boards. "Things that normal folks take for granted, she can't do for the rest of her life."
Family members of Page and Tarver attended Friday's sentencing and declined to speak to a reporter afterward.
Luce said he was in court to impose a sentence, not to conduct public education. Nonetheless, he noted, "we as a society have to address the issue of firearms . . . educating young people to stay away from them."
Curtis Krueger can be reached at (727) 893-8232 or firstname.lastname@example.org.