Hit-and-run driver Jennifer Porter seeks early end to probation

TAMPA — Jennifer Porter, the former Hillsborough County dance teacher who avoided prison after fleeing an accident that killed two children and injured two others, wants to get off probation early. Critics already thought her punishment was too lenient.

But her attorney said Tuesday she deserves the reprieve.

“She has been impeccable in her conduct and her respect in the system as evidenced by how well she’s done on probation,” Barry Cohen said.

“Taxpayer money should be spent on watching people who are out committing violent crimes and are a threat to society rather than having to watch Jennifer Porter.”

Prosecutors plan to object, Assistant State Attorney Pam Bondi said.

The children’s mother, Lisa Wilkins, and Tom Parnell, the attorney who represented her, could not be reached for comment.

Porter, who lives in Land O’Lakes, is scheduled to be in court Thursday.

She is halfway through her three-year probation. That’s when defendants typically are eligible to seek an early termination.

“She shouldn’t be treated any differently than anybody else,” Cohen said.

In her motion, Porter, 33, says she has completed all the conditions of her supervision and her probation officer supports the request.

She has not committed any violations during her supervision, court records show.

In March 2004, she kept driving after a collision with four siblings, ages 2 to 13, who were crossing a dark street near north Tampa’s Muller Elementary, where Porter worked as a dance teacher.

The impact killed 13-year-old Bryant Wilkins and his 3-year-old brother, Durontae Caldwell, and left the two others seriously injured.

Porter pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of a crash involving a death in November 2005. It was her first criminal offense.

At her sentencing, Cohen’s law firm presented a long list of character witnesses who praised her and defense experts who said she had suffered an acute stress reaction after seeing a body hit her windshield, and drove away on auto-pilot.

The Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office sought prison time.

Instead, a judge sentenced Porter to two years of house arrest, three years of probation and 500 hours of community service work.

Porter filed her own motion seeking early termination, hoping to avoid publicity.

But after Cohen advised her Tuesday against representing herself, she decided to have him by her side when she goes before a judge.

“We’re going to help her out,” Cohen said. “She may be a better dancer, but I’m a better lawyer.”

Times staff writer Kevin Graham contributed to this report. Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

Hit-and-run driver Jennifer Porter seeks early end to probation 05/19/09 [Last modified: Monday, May 25, 2009 4:55pm]

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