BROOKSVILLE — One day last year, two buddies raced their nearly identical Honda Civics down a rural, two-lane road east of Brooksville.
Driving north in the southbound lane, Paul Thomas Snyder pulled ahead in his white Civic as an oncoming car appeared over a hill. Snyder darted back into the northbound lane, clipping the front of the black car driven by his longtime friend, Jonathan Parker.
On Tuesday, a Hernando County circuit judge sentenced Snyder to three years in prison for what happened next.
Both cars spun out of control. Parker's car hit a tree on the side of the road. Snyder sped away, authorities say.
Parker, 18, died at the scene.
"I'm sorry to everybody," Snyder, now 21, said during the hearing. "His family. My family. I wish it didn't have to go down like this."
As part of a plea agreement, Snyder pleaded no contest to vehicular homicide, racing on the highway, and driving with a suspended or revoked license and without valid registration. The sentence, which includes a decade of probation, is significantly less than the minimum set forth by law — 113 months, or nearly 10 years. Prosecutors and Parker's family agreed to the deal based on the "unique facts and circumstances of the case," Assistant State Attorney Bill Catto told Circuit Judge Anthony Tatti.
Tatti made sure Snyder understood he will spend at least a decade in prison if he gets in trouble again.
"I hope you carry that with you every day you're on probation," Tatti said.
Among the conditions of the deal, Snyder must give six presentations each year to high schools or youth groups about the dangers of racing. His license will be suspended for five years, and he must pay $6,140 in restitution to Tina Bernecker, Parker's mother.
Snyder does not have a lengthy criminal record. He was arrested in Brooksville in 2008 and charged with battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting arrest. He pleaded guilty, and adjudication was withheld, records show.
Parker, who went by Jon or his last name, lived on Kibler Lane, less than a mile west of the crash site. Snyder lived even closer, on WPA Road.
Snyder and Parker had attended Brooksville's Parrott Middle School together, then both wound up at what was then called the STAR Center, the district's alternative school for students with behavior issues. Friends and a former teacher told the Tampa Bay Times last year that Parker was taking adult education courses and had plans to join the Navy.
Before the sentencing, Snyder's tearful mother crossed the aisle of the gallery, embraced Bernecker and apologized to her. Then Snyder, who was out on bail, did the same.
Bernecker did not speak during the hearing and declined to comment afterward, though she nodded when a Times reporter asked if she thought Snyder was remorseful.
Holly Parker, Jon's sister, said her family is still grieving and wishes Snyder's family well. But the emotional reaction of Snyder's family and friends to the sight of a bailiff cuffing him didn't sit well, Parker said.
"They're acting like they're losing a son," she said. "Jail has visiting hours."
Reach Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431. Follow @tmarrerotimes on Twitter.