LARGO — Michelle Carreras has been devastated since her daughter Raquel was killed during a car ride with an underage driver.
But on Monday afternoon, when it came time for the driver to be punished, Carreras showed compassion.
She did not speak in the sentencing hearing, but asked a prosecutor to relay her wishes: She would like the judge to withhold a formal finding of guilt against the driver.
Carreras said she did not want 17-year-old Shawn Ledesma's future crippled with a criminal conviction that could prevent him from college or employment, despite the accident that took her daughter's life.
"We lost one young life, we don't need two," she said after the hearing.
Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Joseph A. Bulone sentenced Ledesma to six years' probation, including two years' house arrest, and said he could not have a driver's license for at least five years. He withheld a formal finding of guilt.
Ledesma, now a senior at Northeast High School in St. Petersburg, said he was "truly sorry" for the September 2007 accident that killed one of his five teenage passengers, Raquel Carreras, a popular student and cheerleader at Northeast.
"I think about my actions on that day, every day," he said Monday.
"I always think about it and I'll have to live with it forever."
Ledesma previously had pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide, without making a plea bargain with prosecutors.
Under the sentence imposed Monday, he also must perform 100 hours per year of community service, including talking to groups about the dangers of driving improperly. He also will have a 9 p.m. curfew, except for certain school activities.
Bulone agreed with defense attorneys that Shawn's mother, Lesa Ledesma, was "responsible for bad judgment" because she had given him the keys to her 2006 Saturn Ion, knowing he was not legally able to drive.
But Shawn Ledesma "carried it even further, by not only driving under those circumstances but driving the way he did, ultimately killing the victim," Bulone said.
He noted that Shawn Ledesma had five teenage passengers in the car and drove more than 70 mph in a 40-mph zone. Three in the car were boys, three were girls, and none wore seat belts, which was "a recipe for disaster," the judge said.
Michelle Carreras' sister Carolyn Postle, Raquel's aunt, agreed with her sister's wishes but also said the probation and community service sentence should be as extensive as possible.
Raquel's father, Alfredo Carreras, said he wished Shawn Ledesma had never been born, but also asked aloud, "How responsible were all of us when we were 15 years old?"
On the night of the accident, Shawn Ledesma was at home in north St. Petersburg with some friends, his mother, his younger sister and some of her friends. He asked his mother if he could drive her car to pick up some girls who were classmates at Northeast High and let them come over.
His mother eventually said yes. At the time, her son was 15, had only had his learner's permit 43 days and was not allowed to drive at night or without an adult in the car.
He drove with two friends to a McDonald's on 34th Street and turned back toward his family's apartment. Another friend drove separately.
Driving east on 62nd Avenue N, Ledesma's car bumped a truck his friend was driving. Ledesma's car veered right at a place where the road bends slightly. The Saturn went over the curb, through a fence and into an oak tree on the grounds of Suncoast Cathedral.
Raquel Carreras, 14, was ejected from the sun roof and died. Ledesma had not been drinking alcohol, tests showed.
Lesa Ledesma, 45, pleaded guilty in September to manslaughter and already has begun serving a five-year sentence of probation, which includes three years of house arrest. She also must spend 30 days in the Pinellas County Jail over Christmas this year.
Curtis Krueger can be reached at (727) 893-8232 or firstname.lastname@example.org.