TAMPA — One evening in 2015, a Dodge Avenger sped east along a rural stretch of State Road 60, south of Plant City, topping 90 mph. In the passenger area was an empty Bacardi bottle and receipts for wine. At the wheel was Brian DeFreitas, a Brandon dance instructor who was heading home to Lakeland. He was drunk.
Near the intersection of Cable Road, the Avenger slammed into the back of a Chevrolet pickup truck, sending it tumbling out of control. Its driver, Maria Luisa Olivas, 45, was thrown out. Her 9-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter were injured. The mother later died at a hospital.
On Monday morning, DeFreitas stood shackled, donning an orange jail suit, as a judge ordered him to serve 12 years in prison. A blood test hours after the horrific crash had pegged his alcohol content at 0.22 percent, almost three times the legal limit.
DeFreitas, now 48, said little as he entered guilty pleas to charges of DUI manslaughter, DUI with serious bodily injury, and reckless driving.
In the gallery behind him, relatives of the woman whose life he ended wept, but declined an offer to be heard.
It was an abrupt end to a criminal case that until its last hour had appeared poised for trial. DeFreitas' defense attorney, Leslie Sammis, had sought to have the blood test results thrown out. That's because crash investigators did not obtain a warrant before his blood was drawn. But a judge eventually agreed with prosecutors that it had been necessary, given the pressing circumstances.
A Hillsborough sheriff's deputy encountered DeFreitas standing by the roadside about 7:43 p.m. on Oct. 8, 2015. The Avenger sat in the road yards away with heavy damage to its front end. Blood streaked DeFreitas' arm.
"I hurt my hand," he told the deputy, according to court testimony. "I hit something. I don't know what I hit."
The crumpled pickup was in a ditch on the road's north side. On the ground nearby lay Olivas, who had been thrown from the truck. Her two children, Alejandro Mendoza, 9, and Jade Alexa Mendoza, 8, were also injured.
They were taken to Tampa General Hospital, where Olivas died. Her son endured several skull fractures. Her daughter suffered skin abrasions and a broken arm.
The crash closed both sides of State Road 60. Law enforcement officers described it as a chaotic scene, with bystanders everywhere.
When troopers with the Florida Highway Patrol arrived, they noted that DeFreitas stunk of alcohol. In reports, they wrote of glassy eyes, slurred speech, unsteadiness on his feet. He refused medical attention for his bleeding arm.
A trooper asked how the crash had happened. He said he had been coming from the plaza where he worked in Brandon.
"I had wine at work," he said.
He was asked if he would perform sobriety exercises. He refused.
He was asked if he would consent to have his blood drawn for testing. Again, he refused.
Investigators decided to obtain a "forced blood draw," due to the crash having involved a death. But by the time the decision was made, paramedics had left the scene. A trooper drove DeFreitas to a fire house, but no ambulance was there. A second fire house refused to draw DeFreitas' blood without a warrant.
An FHP trooper later testified that he believed it would take too long prepare a warrant. By the time a judge signed it, any alcohol in DeFreitas' body may have dissipated. DeFreitas was eventually driven to South Florida Baptist Hospital in Plant City, where his blood was taken more than three hours after the crash.
DeFreitas had at least one prior DUI conviction. That was in addition to multiple traffic offenses, including several arrests for driving with a suspended license.
Judge Ward also ordered him to complete five years of probation and attend Alcoholics Anonymous. His driver's license was permanently revoked.
Family members of Olivas declined to comment to a reporter.
A brief online memorial published when she died described her as a devoted Catholic, stubborn, who went out of her way to help others. She had a total of three sons and two daughters.
"Mom, we will miss you tremendously," the memorial read. "Love, forever and always, your kids."
Contact Dan Sullivan at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.