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Former teacher pleads guilty to Spring Hill DUI manslaughter

BROOKSVILLE — On the day he died, Ludolf Breymann and his wife, Christa, left their Spring Hill home for Tampa. It was time for Mr. Breymann to renew his permanent resident card.

The Breymanns had moved from their native Germany in 1961 to make a new life in America. That day, Jan. 3, 2011, Mr. Breymann switched shifts with a co-worker at the Sam's Club bakery so he could run his critical errand.

His wife had already renewed her card, but she rode along.

On the way back from Tampa, the Breymanns were traveling through the intersection of U.S. 19 and Pepper Street in Spring Hill when Robert Mathew McCraw drove his 1992 Cadillac through a red light and smashed into the couple's Toyota.

Mrs. Breymann, 76 at the time, suffered fractures of her left arm, sternum, hip and pelvis. Her husband of 51/2 decades died in the emergency room. He was 75.

Last week, McCraw, 43, entered an open guilty plea to DUI manslaughter and two other charges. Oxycodone was coursing through his system at the time of the crash, authorities say.

A Hernando schoolteacher at the time, he was arrested nearly a year later. At his sentencing hearing next month, a judge could send him to prison for as many as 20 years.

Mrs. Breymann, who has since moved to Pennsylvania, doesn't plan to attend. But she does want justice.

"The facts are there," she said in a phone interview Friday. "He broke the law."

"My husband is gone," she said, "and I'm alone."

• • •

Ludolf Breymann grew up in Germany with a passion for drawing that was so strong he enrolled in art school.

"Then the war came," Christa Breymann said, "and everything went down the drain."

Instead, Mr. Breymann would make his living as a baker. His wife focused on raising their four children.

The couple moved to Spring Hill from Pennsylvania in 2003. Their youngest son was battling cancer at the time, and they figured he'd feel better in the sunshine. He died the following year at age 32.

About that time, Mr. Breymann started working as a cake decorator at Sam's Club on State Road 50.

Allison Harding, a decorator who worked alongside him for about six years, said customers loved the man with the mustache, thick head of gray hair and playful sense of humor. He insisted on dressing all in white even after the company updated the uniform.

"He was very strong-willed," said Harding, 38.

That will was also reflected in his customer service.

Breymann often strayed from Sam's Club formulaic decorating rules to give customers unique designs. The bags of icing were his paints, the cakes his blank canvas, and customers raved.

I take care of them, he'd say in a still-thick accent. I do what the people want.

Mr. Breymann worked long days to cover the mortgage on the couple's tidy block ranch home on Skylark Drive. He didn't want to retire until it was paid off.

"Everything he did," Harding said, "he did for his family."

Also blessed with a green thumb, Mr. Breymann loved to work in the yard. He doted over plants in the Sam's Club break room.

When news of his death broke, customers and co-workers alike shed tears, Harding said.

People who walk up to the counter still ask about him, and his former co-workers faithfully care for what they call Lou's plants.

"We can't let them go," Harding said.

• • •

Personnel records show how McCraw's professional and personal life started to derail about two years ago.

He joined the Hernando school district as an exceptional education teacher in 1997 and moved to Spring Hill Elementary in 2000. In memos to district officials in November 2010, school administrators said McCraw appeared to be "in a daze" and "spaced out."

McCraw told his bosses he was taking four prescription medications for pain. During a conference with principals, he said his doctor continued to increase his dosage so the medication would have an effect. Over the years, he said, his prescribed dosage had become "quite large," according to summary notes of the meeting.

The types of medications were redacted from the notes, and the source of his pain was unclear.

McCraw said his wife suspected he was on illegal drugs and had packed her belongings, with plans to leave if a drug test came back positive. He told school officials he was "not in the right mental state to handle things."

Authorities came to school and took McCraw into custody under the state's Baker Act, records show. The act allows law enforcement officers to take someone for mental evaluation who appears likely to harm himself or others.

After a psychiatric exam, McCraw was declared fit for duty and returned to work.

The crash occurred two days before the end of winter break. A deputy at the scene noticed that McCraw was having trouble staying awake.

"He was literally falling asleep standing up," said Assistant State Attorney Bill Catto.

Florida Highway Patrol troopers ordered a toxicology test. McCraw was not seriously injured and returned to the classroom.

Shortly thereafter, McCraw's co-teacher and school administrators noticed that his speech was slurred and that he was struggling to stand up straight and stay awake, records show. During a meeting with district officials a few days later, McCraw again blamed his multiple medications, stating his doctor had begun to wean him off the pills.

He said he had been seeing a pain management doctor since 2000.

"I need to keep my job and be levelheaded," he said, according a hearing summary. "I've found that I'm less levelheaded on my medications."

After that meeting, McCraw went on leave with the intention of entering a residential facility, though the type was redacted from records.

Months later, toxicology results indicated that the amount of oxycodone in his system at the time of the crash was much higher than the normal therapeutic dose, Catto said.

Whether or not McCraw had a prescription at the time is irrelevant.

"Just because you have a prescription doesn't give you the excuse to double or triple up on your pills," Catto said.

McCraw's attorney did not return a message left at his office. McCraw, who has been out on bail, could not be reached.

He officially retired from the school district last June.

Because McCraw entered an open plea, sparing the Breymann family a trial, and because he lacks a criminal record in Florida, Catto said he will ask a judge to levy a sentence at the bottom of the guidelines

That's about 141/2 years.

• • •

Mrs. Breymann spent more than a week in a trauma center and endured weeks more of painful rehabilitation before she could walk again.

She put the couple's home on the market, but it didn't sell, so she invited someone to live in and take care of it, and she moved to the Pittsburgh area to be closer to her daughters.

She still has pain from the crash, but tries to avoid medication.

Asked how long she thinks McCraw should remain in prison, she doesn't respond with a number of years.

"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."

Staff writer Danny Valentine and news researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Reach Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1431. On Twitter: @TMarreroTimes and @Hernando Times.

Former teacher pleads guilty to Spring Hill DUI manslaughter 11/17/12 [Last modified: Saturday, November 17, 2012 9:53am]
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