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In jail letters, driver who disfigured Summer Moll tells of despair

Bailiffs take Cheryl Riemann away Tuesday in Tampa after she was sentenced to 15 years in prison and eight years’ probation.

SCOTT MCINTYRE | Times

Bailiffs take Cheryl Riemann away Tuesday in Tampa after she was sentenced to 15 years in prison and eight years’ probation.

TAMPA — Cheryl Riemann caused the crash that killed Jennifer O'Boyle and permanently disfigured her little girl on Sept. 10, 2008, but in the weeks that followed, knew less about it than anyone who read the news.

Riemann was sentenced to 15 years in prison this week, and more documents were entered into her court file, including letters she wrote but didn't deliver to the ones she hurt the most.

"Please," she wrote, "take time to know me. I beg of you ... .

"Please, please find it in your hearts to forgive me."

The records capture the state of mind of a drunken driver regaining consciousness after the worst has happened, trying to piece it all together.

Riemann awoke in a hospital, her family standing over her. Three psychologist reports detail her first memories:

She'd been in a car crash, she knew that much. She asked if anyone died. At first, no one would say. She didn't know that in the same hospital, 4-year-old Summer Moll was clinging to life, her arms, legs, pelvis, eyeball socket and skull broken.

Riemann told psychologists she learned the following day that someone had died in the crash and someone else was seriously hurt. She said she remembered a Florida Highway Patrol trooper coming with tickets for her to sign.

Cpl. Frank Burke later testified that when he gave her one for driving on the wrong side of the road, she wanted to know where it happened. She said she didn't remember knocking over traffic cones on the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway and barreling into oncoming traffic.

She told psychologists she went to jail after a few days in the hospital, was on suicide watch for a while and spent most of her time in solitary confinement.

For a few days in October 2008, she was allowed in with the general population. She hadn't seen television news, but the other inmates had. They told her the little girl's body was "in metal."

Twelve pins held Summer's legs together.

Riemann got loose-leaf pieces of paper and wrote a letter addressed to Summer and her family, telling them what she'd just learned.

"I pictured it in my head, and to see her like that would break me," she said. "Just the thought makes me tear up and crushes me. Though they said she had a big smile … I wish I could have seen it … "

She returned to solitary, she wrote, because of the news coverage. That November, she heard from her sister that Summer needed to return to the hospital.

Riemann wrote another letter.

"I am always left in the dark, or so I feel like that," she wrote. "When I found that out, I felt sad again and was lost for words ... .

"You see, I had thought that she had come out of the hospital and was on her way to a full recovery without having to keep going through any more physical pain. ... I am so sorry for the destruction I caused you all."

Her attorneys kept the letters. They said they couldn't send them before the case was resolved.

Riemann told them she wanted to plead guilty as charged, Assistant Public Defender Maria Pavlidis said at the sentencing this week. But the attorneys needed to investigate first.

On Tuesday, Riemann, 28, finally saw Summer. She clutched handwritten pages and told the family she was sorry.

Times staff writers Colleen Jenkins and Dan Sullivan contributed to this report. Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

In jail letters, driver who disfigured Summer Moll tells of despair 12/16/10 [Last modified: Thursday, December 16, 2010 11:37pm]
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