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Land O'Lakes man gets 9 months in prison for brother's DUI death

Brian Rushing, 19, pleaded guilty Friday to DUI manslaughter in the death of his older brother. He faced up to 15 years in prison.

KERI WIGINTON | Times

Brian Rushing, 19, pleaded guilty Friday to DUI manslaughter in the death of his older brother. He faced up to 15 years in prison.

DADE CITY — Brian Rushing lost his brother and his father in a little over a year.

The thing the 19-year-old hoped to keep, the thing he wanted a judge to give him a second chance at, was freedom.

He came to court last week having done, arguably, all he could to help his cause.

He completed the 12 steps of recovery. In scores of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, he told his story over and over to others like him. He spoke of what he'd lost, and what he'd learned.

He had begun to recover, yes. But he had yet to be punished.

• • •

Rushing was driving home to Land O'Lakes on Nov. 19, 2007, with his brother and a female friend, coming from a bar where the family of a friend killed in a drunken-driving accident was trying to raise money for a funeral.

Rushing himself had been drinking.

On the ride home, on Parkway Boulevard, something appeared in the road and Rushing swerved his sport utility vehicle to avoid it, case records say. The car flipped, and Nathan Rushing, who was riding in the front seat, was ejected.

The 21-year-old was pronounced dead at University Community Hospital.

His younger brother had a blood-alcohol level of 0.099, just above the limit at which Florida law presumes a driver impaired.

Brian was charged with DUI manslaughter.

• • •

He made an open plea of guilty last week, leaving his fate in the hands of a judge.

His sentencing carried over two days. The first day was something like an AA meeting itself.

A dozen witnesses spoke on Rushing's behalf. His employers — a pool deck installer and a restaurant manager — said how reliable he is, even though he isn't allowed to drive himself to work. Other addicts — some many years older and with many more years of sobriety — talked of what an inspiration Rushing is to them.

An official from the Department of Juvenile Justice wrote a letter to the judge, saying that Rushing was volunteering at a halfway house, leading a weekly meeting with youthful offenders about addiction.

A man who met Rushing in an recovering addicts' meeting testified in the hearing, and later told the Times that he's never seen someone so young take recovery so seriously.

"I wish that everybody approached their recovery with the zeal and enthusiasm that he has," said the man, who asked he be identified only as John L. "He's so open and honest about it, and I think that's why he's able to do so much good in the community. He doesn't shy away from it. It's not a dirty little secret."

Tragedy struck the family again this Valentine's Day when Marvin Rushing, Brian's father, died suddenly at age 54 of a heart attack.

Barbara Rushing told Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa that she'd gone from having an intact family of four to one remaining son whom she could lose to prison.

• • •

The sentence came Friday.

Rushing faced a maximum of 15 years in prison.

He made a brief speech to the judge. He answered Siracusa's questions about the crash. He said he had changed. He asked for a second chance.

"I know I made a mistake, and I know what I did was wrong," he said, sitting in a jail jumpsuit, handcuffed, with his mother at his side.

But he said he has turned his life around by going through recovery and helping others do the same.

"I don't want to be the person I was," he said.

Siracusa told him first he would be sentenced to a strict probation of 10 years: nightly curfew, no alcohol, lots of community service, and he'd lose his driver's license for life.

But there was more.

"I have to put you in jail," the judge said. "I can't not."

Nine months.

Nine months, when it could have been 15 years.

But Rushing, who already lost so much, and his mother, who lost even more, wept.

They just wept.

Land O'Lakes man gets 9 months in prison for brother's DUI death 04/18/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 18, 2009 11:49am]
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