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Former teacher gets 5 years in DUI manslaughter case

Robert McCraw, center, talks with his attorney Morris Purcell, left, during sentencing in the DUI manslaughter case.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Robert McCraw, center, talks with his attorney Morris Purcell, left, during sentencing in the DUI manslaughter case.

BROOKSVILLE — Robert McCraw shuffled up to the lectern, leaning on a black metal cane. When the judge asked the former schoolteacher to raise his right hand and swear to tell the truth, McCraw shifted the cane to his left hand and obeyed.

Words, McCraw said, cannot give back the life he took two years ago when he drove his 1992 Cadillac through a red light along U.S. 19 in Spring Hill and smashed into Ludolf and Christa Breymann's Toyota.

Mr. Breymann, 75, was driving and died later in an emergency room. Mrs. Breymann, 76 at the time, was severely injured.

"If I was able to give my life for Mr. Breymann's, I surely would," McCraw said during his sentencing hearing Wednesday. "I'm horrified for what I've done. As far as I'm concerned, I don't deserve to live. Mr. Breymann deserves to live."

Moments later, Circuit Judge Daniel B. Merritt Sr. decided McCraw would spend five years in prison for driving under the influence of Xanax and leaving Christa Breymann a widow.

Before levying the punishment, Merritt acknowledged what McCraw's attorney, Morris Purcell, had argued: This wasn't a typical DUI case.

"This wasn't an illicit drug," Merritt said. "Mr. McCraw was taking prescription medication. However, he exceeded the amount he should have taken and having done so made a conscious decision to continue to drive the vehicle."

McCraw had a prescription for Xanax to treat anxiety attacks. The day of the crash, Jan. 3, 2011, he suffered an attack and took another pill, Purcell said. On the way home from a local mall, McCraw ran a red light at U.S. 19 and Pepper Street.

The Breymanns, who moved from their native Germany in 1961 to make a new life in America, were on their way back from Tampa, where they had just renewed Mr. Breymann's permanent resident card.

A deputy at the scene noticed McCraw was having trouble staying awake after the crash. Toxicology results showed he had more than the therapeutic dose of the drug in his system.

"At no point have we asserted that a crime has not been committed," Purcell said. "But this is hugely different than a person who makes a decision to get themselves liquored up and then go drive."

McCraw entered an open plea last year to DUI manslaughter and two other charges. He faced up to 20 years in prison and a year in the county jail.

Noting that McCraw had no prior criminal history, Purcell also asked Merritt to consider a twist of fate. Out on bail after the wreck, McCraw was walking in New York City when he was hit by a vehicle. That crash left him permanently disabled with brain damage and crippling injuries, Purcell said.

Purcell asked Merritt to depart from sentencing guidelines and give McCraw two years of house arrest, followed by 15 years of drug offender probation.

Assistant State Attorney Bill Catto said McCraw deserved the minimum mandatory sentence of four years in prison.

Catto called the Breymanns an "old-school couple." Ludolf Breymann, a popular cake decorator at Sam's Club on State Road 50, handled the finances and did the driving; so becoming a widow was especially hard for Christa Breymann, he said.

"Mr. Breymann's death not only caused her the grief that comes with losing a longtime marital partner, but it put her in a position where she was literally unprepared to go forward with her life," Catto said.

Catto said restitution had been handled in civil proceedings.

After Wednesday's sentencing, Purcell retreived McCraw's tie and belt and gave it to his mother, who watched as bailiffs led her son away.

Records show McCraw's use of prescription medication started creating problems at his job with the school district as early as 2010, when school administrators at Spring Hill Elementary said McCraw appeared to be "in a daze" and "spaced out." McCraw said he had been seeing a pain management doctor since 2000 and that his dosage had become "quite large." He retired last June.

Mrs. Breymann has since moved to Pennsylvania to be closer to her children. She did not attend the hearing and could not be reached for comment.

In an interview with the Times in November, a reporter asked her how long McCraw should spend in prison.

"I hope he's in there long enough to come to his senses and dry out," she said. "Maybe, just maybe, someone else's life will be saved."

Reach Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1431. Follow him on Twitter @TMarreroTimes.

Former teacher gets 5 years in DUI manslaughter case 02/13/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 10:37pm]
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