Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hernando teen sentenced to nine months for wreck that killed sheriff's captain

Attorney Robert Whittel, left, and Andrew Frank Morris listen to Assistant State Attorney Pete Magrino outline the plea agreement.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Attorney Robert Whittel, left, and Andrew Frank Morris listen to Assistant State Attorney Pete Magrino outline the plea agreement.

BROOKSVILLE — The two families never spoke to each other, not the day before at a hearing and not during the final session to determine the fate of the teenager who tragically brought them all to the same courtroom.

Their interaction over the two days was brief and perfunctory. The sentencing hearing on Wednesday lasted about an hour.

But the grief will last forever.

Andrew Frank Morris, now 18, was sentenced to nine months in jail and six years of court supervision after reaching a plea deal for his involvement in the head-on collision that left Hernando sheriff's Capt. Scott Bierwiler dead in February 2009.

Morris faced charges of third-degree murder and grand theft. If convicted, he could have been sentenced to as many as 15 years in prison.

"I'm relieved for the victim's family that they won't have to go through the ordeal of a trial," said Pete Magrino, Hernando's chief homicide prosecutor. "The Bierwiler family … they're a compassionate group. And because of their compassion, that's why the resolution of the case was done in this fashion."

Morris was sentenced as part of the state's youthful offender program. He will serve his time in the Hernando County Jail and follow that with two years of community control and four years of probation.

If Morris completes his sentence without getting into any trouble, the state will remove the conviction from his record.

Both families declined to comment after the sentencing hearing, leaving the lawyers to speak for them. And they both agreed on a singular theme from the morning and the events of the past 22 months.

"There are no winners in this," said Morris' attorney, Robert Whittel, a sentiment Magrino echoed.

Authorities say Morris, then a 16-year-old junior at Nature Coast Technical High School, slipped out of his house about 5 a.m. Feb. 19, 2009, and took his parents' 2002 Mitsubishi Montero without permission.

The teen was driving west on Powell Road south of Brooksville about 5:45 a.m. when he crossed the center line and collided head-on with a dark-colored agency-issued 1999 Ford Crown Victoria driven by Bierwiler, according to reports.

Bierwiler was killed instantly. Morris had two broken legs, a number of broken ribs and other injuries that required surgical reconstruction.

Bierwiler's family also has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Morris and his parents, which is pending. It alleges that Morris' parents knew and consented to Morris operating the sport utility vehicle — language needed for an insurance claim against them for culpable negligence.

With that grim history linking the two families, they filed into Circuit Judge Stephen Rushing's courtroom Wednesday. Magrino and Whittel had been working feverishly in recent days, hoping to reach a deal before the scheduled trial date of Dec. 13.

Bierwiler's family filled the first two rows of benches in the courtroom, and a handful of Sheriff's Office employees sat in a row behind the family.

Some legal experts and laymen had questioned whether the murder charge was excessive, wondering if the case received special attention because Bierwiler was viewed as a likely successor to Sheriff Richard Nugent.

Magrino rebuffed those suggestions, but he never wavered on earlier comments that he places a high priority on homicide cases involving law enforcement officers.

"Some people don't like it when I say that," Magrino said after the hearing. "But those are my No. 1 priority cases."

Magrino said the plea deal was bolstered by the Bierwiler family's eagerness for expediency and leniency and Morris' absence of a criminal record before the collision.

"By all indications, he came from a good family," Magrino said. "It seemed to me that he should be afforded a second chance."

Reach Joel Anderson at joelanderson@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6120.

Hernando teen sentenced to nine months for wreck that killed sheriff's captain 11/10/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 10, 2010 10:08pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Why the Lightning would consider trading Jonathan Drouin

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — This summer, the Lightning could trade one of its most dynamic young players ever.

    Wing Jonathan Drouin could be the only piece that Tampa Bay has to acquire a badly needed top-tier defenseman.
  2. Ryan Hunter-Reay running strong as he seeks a second Indianapolis 500 title

    Auto racing

    Ryan Hunter-Reay isn't a big jewelry fan.

    Ryan Hunter-Reay, who won Indy in 2014, is a contender for a second title in today’s 101st running. He qualified 10th, had the third-fastest practice lap and his team is looking strong.
  3. As Trump's overseas trip ends, crisis grows at home (w/video)

    Politics

    President Donald Trump headed home Saturday to confront a growing political and legal threat, as his top aides tried to contain the fallout from reports that his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is a focus of investigations into possible collusion between Russia and the president's campaign and transition teams.

    President Donald Trump waves as he exits Marine One on Saturday at Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily, Italy. After a nine-day trip overseas, the president is returning to Washington.
  4. Tributes pour in for Zbigniew Brzezinski, an 'influential voice' in politics (w/video)

    Nation

    WASHINGTON — Well before he went to the White House in 1977, Jimmy Carter was impressed by the views of foreign policy expert Zbigniew Brzezinski. That Carter immediately liked the Polish-born academic advising his campaign was a plus.

    Foreign policy expert Zbigniew Brzezinski died Friday.
  5. One year after deaths, Sunset Music Festival kicks off with emphasis on water and security

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — Before the beat drops, or even builds, you hear Steve-O.

    "If you don't get water you're lame!"

    "Hey! Free water! Come on!"

    Steve "Steve-O" Raymond motions to guests making the line to grab free water bottle at the entrance of the Sunset Music Festival on the grounds of the Raymond James Stadium parking lot in Tampa. ( LUIS SANTANA   |   Times)