LARGO — Norm Runkles remembers swinging by Douglas Carey's crossing guard post and seeing the 70-year-old smile. During his breaks, Carey met his wife at a nearby parking lot to talk about their days.
"I watched that go on and I thought that was really special," said Runkles, a crossing guard supervisor at the Clearwater Police Department. "She just doesn't get to do that anymore."
Three years ago, a speeding Cadillac that ran a red light on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard struck Carey and ended his life.
Runkles watched in a Pinellas courtroom Tuesday as the driver, Julious Johnson, 31, pleaded guilty to the fatal crash and was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Runkles sat next to Carey's wife, Jean, and her daughter, Toni. Assistant State Attorney Doneene Loar read the Carey family's statement.
"This has left us with a hole in our hearts that can never be filled," read the statement, directed to Pinellas Circuit Judge William Burgess III. "Nothing can bring our husband, father, grandfather back, but you can honor a man who spent his life helping others by ensuring Mr. Johnson doesn't hurt anyone else."
Runkles stood in court, unfolded a typed letter, and read his statement.
"I get to see Doug only when I pass by his picture," he said, his voice shaking. Carey's family and friends, Runkles added, remember him through photos and a gathering they have every year on the anniversary of his death.
On May 20, 2014, Carey, a retired Clearwater police officer, was getting ready to escort children across the busy intersection at Belcher Road when a Cadillac speeding at 70 mph on Gulf-to-Bay ran a red light. A Honda with the right of way was making a left and collided with Johnson's Cadillac, spinning his car into the direction of Carey, who was standing at the northwest corner of the intersection. He died at the scene.
Johnson ran away from the wreckage, leaving his injured daughters, ages 2 and 4, behind in the car. In his interview with detectives, he admitted to driving the car.
He pleaded guilty to charges of leaving the scene of a crash involving death, vehicular homicide, driving with a revoked license, two counts of child neglect, felonious possession of a firearm and tampering with physical evidence. He also received time served for charges of resisting officers without violence and possession of marijuana.
If he had gone to trial, scheduled for Aug. 29, Johnson faced up to 60 years in prison.
"I think everyone feels that it's fair," Runkles said of the sentence, not just for Carey's family, but for Johnson as well.
When Burgess asked Johnson if he was satisfied with his attorney, Johnson spoke briefly, saying that he felt everyone looked at him as a "bad guy."
"I feel sorry," he said, but added, "I feel like I'm coming to court and y'all looking at me like I wanted to kill this man. . . . I didn't want nothing of this."
After the hearing, Johnson's attorney, Kelly McCabe, called Carey's death a tragedy. Johnson, she said, didn't know he had struck Carey, or that he was dead.
"There were no winners in this," she said.
Outside the courthouse, Runkles said it took him two years to write his statement.
"I thought about it every day," he said. "So today is closure."
Contact Laura C. Morel at [email protected] Follow @lauracmorel.