PINELLAS PARK — Karl Norman Jeckel was charged with two felonies and faced up to 20 years in prison after an unusual accident that left his good friend Angela Gaskin dead.
But Jeckel, 26, recently pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors, including DUI, and was sentenced to a year on probation.
"What a knife in my back," the victim's mother, Valerie Gaskin, said this week.
She said she strongly disagreed with the sentence, which was the result of a plea agreement with prosecutors. Her daughter Angela, she said, was "my pride and joy."
"I still wait for her to call or come home.'' she said. "It's not easy to say I have three, not four, girls."
Gaskin, 20, was killed after leaning out of the passenger window of the truck Jeckel was driving, and hitting her head on mailboxes,
A police report said Jeckel's blood alcohol level was 0.10 or 0.12, higher than the 0.08 level at which the state considers drivers impaired. Angela Gaskin's blood alcohol level was 0.22.
Prosecutors said the state turned up new evidence contrary to the charges Jeckel originally faced, which is why their stance changed about the fatal accident.
In July 2009, Jeckel, Angela Gaskin and her friend Ashlea Smith had been at the Down the Hatch in Pinellas Park, and Jeckel bought two "Double Crown Bombs" made from Crown Royal whiskey and Red Bull energy drink. They later went to Applebee's on Park Boulevard, where Jeckel paid for beer, "Crown-n-Cokes," a Pepsi and some appetizers.
After they left, with Jeckel driving down Lakes Boulevard in Pinellas Park, Gaskin was bouncing in her passenger seat as she listened to music, according to court records.
Then she leaned out, and her head struck the mailboxes.
In addition to reviewing the police investigation, prosecutors later went to the scene in an effort to reconstruct what happened.
Assistant State Attorney Scott Rosenwasser said it was difficult at that time to decide whether Jeckel should be charged with DUI or DUI-manslaughter.
They chose DUI-manslaughter, after concluding that Jeckel "caused or contributed to the cause" of Gaskin's death. This was because Jeckel's truck had been driving on the right edge of the road, so close to the mailboxes. Gaskin also was partly responsible, because she leaned out the window.
But then attorneys learned something new as they conducted their investigations.
In an interview with lawyers, an emergency room nurse said that when everyone first came to the hospital, Jeckel said he took his hand off the wheel of his truck when Gaskin leaned out, in an effort to help her by pulling her back in. But while doing this, the truck swerved to the right.
After learning this, "we couldn't prove his criminal responsibility beyond a reasonable doubt," Rosenwasser said
"Because had she not been leaning out the window, he would not have drifted to the right and she would not have hit her head on the mailboxes," he said.
With this information, it appeared Gaskin was more responsible, and Jeckel less responsible, for the accident than officials originally thought. There was no longer enough evidence to prove Jeckel guilty, Rosenwasser said.
Jeckel also had originally been charged with a felony count of driving with a suspended license. But after checking with license bureaus in two other states, this also was changed to a misdemeanor, driving with no valid license.
In addition to being upset with prosecutors, Valerie Gaskin said she also is upset with the bars she says allowed underage drinking by her daughter, when she was 20. She has filed a lawsuit seeking damages.
Curtis Krueger can be reached at (727) 893-8232 or email@example.com.