BARTOW — They embraced in the courthouse Friday, marking an ending and a beginning: Adam Jacoby, the driver of a car that crashed six years ago, hugged the father of his 16-year-old passenger who was killed.
For Jacoby, it was an ending to his punishment: He pleaded guilty three years ago to manslaughter in the death of Miles White in exchange for six years of probation.
A judge discharged him early from probation Friday, in large part thanks to the testimony of Miles' father, Gary, who said he did not believe Jacoby was responsible for the accident.
For Gary White, it's a beginning, a step on the road to getting to who he believes was the real culprit in the accident: A Polk Sheriff's deputy, Scott Lawson, who in his unmarked vehicle, without police lights, chased Jacoby's car for almost 16 miles at speeds over 100 mph. Lawson, it turned out, was a sexual predator of young men.
Friday's hearing was brief because everybody agreed that Jacoby should be discharged from probation. Polk Circuit Judge Donald Jacobsen asked Gary White if he considered Jacoby culpable for the death of his son.
"In no way,'' answered Gary White.
The prosecutor, Brad Copley, told the judge his office is driven by what the family of the victim wants, so he had no objection to terminating probation.
The probation officer said Jacoby had been a "dream probationer.''
The judge said he noticed that nothing in the plea agreement mentioned alcohol. Defense attorney J. Davis Connor said that was because the blood-alcohol evidence was obtained illegally and not a part of the case. He told the judge that the previous judge on the case had called the facts "very troubling.''
Judge Jacobsen addressed Jacoby: "You've been punished for being involved in an accident. I'm granting this motion.''
In a recent story in the St. Petersburg Times, three accident reconstruction analysts said that evidence including tire marks and photos of damage to Jacoby's car showed what the Whites suspected all along: That Lawson, not Jacoby, caused the accident. Lawson is serving 15 years in prison on unrelated sex charges.
"The car was run down by a deviant predator,'' White said after court, "and we know that it was in no way Adam's fault.''
Said Jacoby: "I'm glad and relieved to have everything done.''
His mother, Republican legislator Marty Bowen, said, "We're thrilled that the judge has seen clear to grant this motion.''
Nobody from the Polk Sheriff's Office attended the hearing.
Meg Laughlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8068.