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Hillsborough man gets 15 years for vehicular homicide

TAMPA — Two years ago, Roger Lee Yeager slammed into a car and killed an 83-year-old woman as he slowed from racing another vehicle at more than 100 mph.

He stood in court Friday insisting that some of the blame belonged to the woman's husband, William Ryan, who was making a U-turn at Gibsonton and Kenda drives as Yeager attempted to avoid the crash.

That didn't sit well with Hillsborough Circuit Judge Emmett Lamar Battles, who said there was no evidence at trial to support the idea that Ryan contributed to the accident.

"Any effort to point a finger in this case in that direction is simply wrong," Battles said.

He sentenced Yeager, 39, of Gibsonton to the 15-year maximum for vehicular homicide and five years of probation for reckless driving with serious bodily injury, followed by an additional year of probation for unlawful racing. A jury convicted Yeager of those charges last month.

The judge also ordered a lifetime revocation of Yeager's Florida driver's license.

"This was no accident. … Absolutely none of it had to happen," Battles said.

At sentencing, defendants often face a victim's family and apologize. Yeager kept his eyes on the judge as he said, "I'm deeply sorry." He never turned to look at the Ryan family.

Assistant State Attorney Barbara Coleman said she doesn't believe he has accepted responsibility for his actions.

Michael Anthony Smith, 24, the man charged with racing Yeager and then leaving the scene of the accident, pleaded guilty. He had faced a possible 30-year sentence. He is serving three years in prison.

Investigators said Yeager was racing at more than 100 mph just moments before the Feb. 11, 2007, crash in a 45 mph zone. He had slowed to 63 mph at the time of the impact.

"Not only did he kill my mother, but I will always believe, and so will my siblings, that he killed my father," said William and Vertis Ryan's son, Michael Ryan.

Vertis Ryan died in the crash. Her husband was hospitalized with serious injuries, but his children said he never recovered from losing the love of his life.

William and Vertis Ryan had been married 61 years, tying the knot two weeks after he walked into the Ybor City restaurant where she waited tables.

She called him "Shorty," because he was the shorter of the two military men who came in that day. The nickname stuck.

Wherever one of them went, the other went, too, his children said.

After the accident, William Ryan lost his zest for life. He spent every night sleeping in his wife's recliner and never left home except to see the doctor. His children took turns sleeping on the couch next to him.

William Ryan died Aug. 10 of heart failure at age 87 — two months before the trial began.

Michael Ryan said he can imagine his mother sitting on the banks of the Jordan as St. Peter invited her into heaven.

"No, I'm going to sit here and wait for Shorty. I'm not going anywhere without Shorty," Michael Ryan imagined his mother saying.

This year, Thanksgiving falls on Vertis Ryan's birthday. Her children say such occasions are now filled with sadness.

"A few moments of joy to see who could go the fastest changed our lives," said their daughter Elaine Rimes.

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

Hillsborough man gets 15 years for vehicular homicide 11/13/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 17, 2009 6:38am]
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