LARGO — The family and friends of Daniel Harrell didn't need to say how much they missed the 22-year-old from Land O'Lakes. You could hear it in their sobs and see it in their tears, as they sat in a courtroom on Monday and waited for a judge to sentence the man who killed Harrell in a drunken driving accident.
"I know if he was here today that he'd forgive you, because that was Danny," his grandmother Deborah Thiel said to William Edward Storey at his sentencing hearing. But she wasn't ready, not yet.
She told Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Cynthia Newton before the judge sentenced Storey to the maximum of 15 years in prison, "it'll be over for him then but it'll never be over ever for me and my family."
Thiel said the close-knit family was so devastated by the accident they haven't put up Christmas or Halloween decorations since Harrell was killed in August 2009, because it would just remind them that he can't be there to enjoy the celebrations.
"Life's just not the same and never will be," Thiel said. She said his mother and father were too devastated to come to the sentencing.
Storey, 41, an engineer from Kenneth City who is married and has a young son, sobbed as he apologized to Harrell's family.
"I want you to know that you're not alone," he said. "Believe it or not," he told them, he would live with the accident "until the day I die also."
Storey also said he never intended to hurt anyone when he got in his silver Mercedes on the night of Aug. 23, 2009. "I didn't leave my home that night to do anything like this. … I would never — I'm not that person."
But Newton, who presided at the trial this May in which Storey was found guilty, said her decision was not based just on the night when Storey rear-ended Harrell's pickup on Interstate 275 west of the Howard Frankland Bridge.
Newton said she also based her decision on the fact that Storey had two previous DUI cases, which showed a pattern of behavior.
"I do believe that the just sentence in this case is the maximum sentence," Newton said.
A test after the accident indicated Storey's blood-alcohol level was 0.171, more than twice the level at which Florida law considers drivers impaired.
Storey's defense attorney, Ronnie Crider, noted Storey's apology and, gesturing to his client, said "the blame is here and he's accepted blame." But he did note that circumstances might have been different if Harrell had been wearing a seat belt. He was thrown from his truck, which turned over during the accident.
Police say Storey caused the accident when he was driving north on I-275. He ran into the truck driven by Harrell, which had two passengers.
Inside the truck, Harrell and two friends, Laci Fisher and James Keen, had been reminiscing. Fisher later described what happened.
"I heard a loud boom," she said in an interview with lawyers.
Harrell said, "Hang on."
When the truck stopped, "We started calling for Danny and he didn't answer us."
Harrell was pronounced dead at the scene.
According to a police report, Storey later called someone from the scene and said, "I think I killed someone."
Thiel, the victim's grandmother, said the message is clear: "Don't get behind the wheel drunk. It's not worth it."
Curtis Krueger can be reached at (727) 893-8232 or email@example.com.