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High school student gets jail for fatal car crash

TAMPA — No one wanted John Holland Jr. to go to prison.

Neither his parents nor relatives of a man the Alonzo High School student killed.

But Hillsborough Circuit Judge Daniel Sleet said community service and speaking to students about the tragedy wasn't enough.

A deadly collision occurred when he lost control of his father's sports car while driving nearly 40 mph over the speed limit, and that clearly weighed upon the judge's mind.

On Monday, he sentenced Holland, 18, to six months in the county jail, followed by a year and a half of community control that includes an 11 p.m. curfew, and four years probation.

"You need to be punished, sir," Sleet told Holland, who completed his junior year less than two weeks ago. "You snuffed out somebody's life speeding."

The judge also ordered Holland to complete 250 hours of community service at a hospital trauma unit and speaking to students about his actions.

In April, Holland pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide in the case of a crash on Sept. 26, 2007, that killed 49-year-old Robert Jeff Baughman.

Prosecutors said Holland was traveling 69 mph in a 30 mph zone when he lost control of his father's 2005 Nissan 305Z, crossed the center line on Countryway Boulevard near Woodbay Drive in Westchase and slammed into Baughman, who was riding a moped.

Defense attorney David Parry said Holland had been accelerating to get at the head of the line as two lanes merged into one. Holland lost control, crossed into traffic and struck Baughman before plunging into a pond. Holland and his passenger, both 16 at the time, escaped uninjured.

"Only you know what was in your mind at the time," Sleet said to Holland. "But you killed somebody. Somebody who sounds to me like was a really nice person."

None of Baughman's relatives asked for prison.

"One life was destroyed that day, and I don't see a reason to destroy another life," said Baughman's brother, Kim.

Under the terms of his agreement, Holland was sentenced as a youthful offender. The most he could have received was six years in prison, instead of 15 had he been sentenced as an adult.

The judge withheld adjudication, so if Holland completes his sentence successfully the conviction will not show on his record.

With tears in his eyes and speaking between short breaths, Holland turned to Baughman's family and apologized.

"I really didn't want to hurt him, I swear," he said. "I just want to say I'm sorry."

So were Holland's parents.

John Holland Sr. said he was sorry for allowing his son to use his car that day.

"That decision destroyed two families," the father said. "For that, I apologize."

"To the Baughman family, I am so sorry for my son's actions," said Margaret Holland.

Baughman's brother, Greg, said in court it was the first time the family offered any remorse.

He received a card around Christmas from the elder Holland, Greg Baughman said. But nowhere in it did the father acknowledge there had been a death or say he was sorry, Greg Baughman said. "Until today, I never heard any remorse," he said. "I'm still angry at Johnny Holland and his family."

The two sides packed into the tiny courtroom, passing tissues as tears fell. More than 70 supporters for Holland awaited the outcome in the courthouse halls because they couldn't find seats inside.

"People talk about closure. I don't know what closure is," Baughman's sister, Susan Cihak, said in court. "People talk about forgiving and forgetting as if some great weight is lifted off your shoulders. I don't want that. I don't want to forget."

Kevin Graham can be reached at kgraham@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

High school student gets jail for fatal car crash 06/15/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 17, 2009 5:00pm]
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