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Hernando widow's words keep driver from returning to prison

BROOKSVILLE — Five years ago, Nancy Watts was in no mood for mercy. She was smothered by her grief. She was staring into a future that never seemed so uncertain. She had never planned for life without her husband of the past 55 years.

And she was not ready to forgive the teen boy was responsible for it all.

Time has a way of changing things.

Thursday, Watts returned to the courtroom where Richard Reynolds was sentenced in 2005 to four years in prison for his role in the accident that killed her 75-year-old husband. Now 21, Reynolds was back in court for a probation violation that threatened to send him back to prison for as many as 10 years.

This time it was Watts who kept Reynolds from returning to prison.

"I hope we can put this all behind us," Watts said. "I never thought I'd be in this courtroom again."

With Watts' consent, prosecutors agreed to again place Reynolds on probation. Previously ordered to give 15 speeches to Hernando County high schools and middle schools about the impact of the accident on him and the others involved, Reynolds must now give five more.

Reynolds pleaded guilty to filing a false report in Hillsborough County after a fender-bender in March. Authorities said his girlfriend caused the accident, but Reynolds claimed responsibility so she wouldn't get in trouble.

That led to an arrest later deemed a violation of his probation in Hernando. Reynolds stood on the brink of another stint in prison until Watts agreed that probation was a more appropriate sentence.

"It's no good for him to sit in jail again," Watts said. "My husband would have forgiven him."

Standing before Circuit Judge Jack Springstead, Reynolds' eyes filled with tears and he mouthed the words "thank you" to Watts over and over again.

"He was very lucky today," said public defender Barbara Jo Bell. "They are responsible for this. And it was all based on their kindness."

The last time they all gathered in Springstead's courtroom in April 2005, things turned out very differently. Reynolds pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and driving without a license after he was accused of causing an accident that killed David Watts of Spring Hill in October 2004.

Authorities said Reynolds took his parents' Chrysler PT Cruiser for a "joyride." He was 15 and had only a learner's permit.

He ran a red light at Mariner and Landover boulevards and collided with Watts' vehicle. Watts was pronounced dead at the scene.

Months later, Reynolds was sentenced to four years in prison and two years of probation as a youthful offender. Reynolds said he was ready to accept responsibility for his actions and apologize to Watts' family, but Nancy Watts didn't accept the apology.

"I am not ready to forgive you," she said at the sentencing hearing. "My heart is broken, and my life won't be the same. Now, it is up to you to make something out of this."

Thursday, Watts was in a more forgiving mood.

"It's been hard," she said, tears streaming down her face. "We were beginning to enjoy life. We had trips planned. We had things to do. My life was taken away."

Outside the courtroom, Watts and her youngest daughter, Janet Sack of Tifton, Ga., met with Reynolds' mother and grandmother for the first time. They shared hugs and vowed to move on.

"He won't be back here," Reynolds' mother said to Watts. "He's doing much better now. Thank you so much for this."

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

Hernando widow's words keep driver from returning to prison 06/10/10 [Last modified: Thursday, June 10, 2010 8:19pm]
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