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Pasco judge denies break for driver in DUI manslaughter

Anthony Sagona asked Judge Mary Handsel to end his probation in a DUI manslaughter case two years early Wednesday. Sagona was sentenced to 10 years’ probation in 2003. The judge said no.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Anthony Sagona asked Judge Mary Handsel to end his probation in a DUI manslaughter case two years early Wednesday. Sagona was sentenced to 10 years’ probation in 2003. The judge said no.

NEW PORT RICHEY — When a drunken Anthony Sagona got behind the wheel and drove on U.S. 19 nearly a decade ago, he took the lives of two brothers, Gaddis family members say.

Robert Patrick Gaddis, 21, died Nov. 2, 2001, after being struck so hard that his head lodged in Sagona's windshield. The other brother, Matthew Gaddis, died Jan. 27, 2009, after overdosing on pain killers. He was 25.

"He really couldn't come to terms with the loss," Brian Gaddis, 33, one of two surviving brothers, said Wednesday outside Courtroom 3A at the West Pasco Judicial Center. "He just sought any means possible to numb the pain."

In October 2003, Sagona, then of Tarpon Springs, cut a deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to DUI manslaughter. The retired police officer from Staten Island was sentenced to six months in county jail, 10 years of probation, a $2,600 fine and a lifetime revocation of his driver's license.

On Wednesday, Sagona was back in court, asking the judge to end his probation two years early.

Sagona, now 58, prepared the motion himself, saying he had served his time, paid off his fines, went to DUI school, and did everything his probation officer asked of him.

"I am very sorry and truly remorseful for my crime," he wrote in the motion.

But the request didn't sit well with the Gaddis family, who already felt Sagona got off easy.

The eldest of the four brothers, Tim, 35, nervously and quickly read a letter to Circuit Judge Mary Handsel describing the pain the family has endured since losing Rob and later losing Matthew, the youngest of the close-knit brothers.

"My parents spend their holidays graveside so their son won't be alone," he said.

His father has needed counseling and has had health issues. And Tim, who was a St. Petersburg police officer at the time his brother was killed and is now a Tampa police officer, said it has even affected his job performance: He sometimes has to walk away from traffic and pedestrian fatality scenes.

Sagona's blood-alcohol level at the time of the crash was 0.13, above the 0.08 threshold at which Florida law presumes impairment. He could have faced 10 years in prison if convicted at trial.

But prosecutors back in 2003 didn't want to take a chance with a jury. There were no reports of Sagona driving erratically that night. And Robert Gaddis had also been drinking before stepping into the road at 2 a.m. outside Sharkey's Sports Grill in New Port Richey, where he was hit.

On Wednesday, Handsel called the original plea "a sweetheart of a deal."

"In this particular case, you were given a huge break and not placed into the Department of Corrections," she told Sagona. "I don't think it would be appropriate to give you early termination in this case."

His probation is set to expire Nov. 2, 2013, according to corrections records.

Sagona, who has moved back to Staten Island, declined to comment after the hearing.

Handsel's ruling is "all I could've hoped for," Brian Gaddis said.

Nearby his 2-year-old daughter smiled and twirled in her pink and white dress. Her name is Riley Patricia Gaddis — the same initials of the late uncle she never met.

Pasco judge denies break for driver in DUI manslaughter 05/18/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 18, 2011 8:58pm]
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