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Probation violation sends man to prison 13 years after crash that killed wife

DADE CITY — When Donald Hancock drove drunk in 1996 and caused the crash that killed his wife, he was spared prison time because it was an isolated incident for which he showed remorse.

For almost 13 years, he lived quietly on probation.

But last fall Hancock was arrested on another drunken driving charge, and on Wednesday a judge decided his chances had run out.

Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa found that the new DUI charge violated Hancock's probation and sentenced him to 12 years in prison.

The sentence falls under state sentencing guidelines from his original arrest, though, meaning Hancock will probably serve less than half that time.

The 46-year-old showed little reaction when the sentence was announced, but earlier he wept into his hands as his family members spoke of how he has not been able to forgive himself for the 3 a.m. crash on Oct. 5, 1996.

He and Irene Hancock had been married for seven years and lived in Spring Hill. They both worked at the Cracker Barrel in Wesley Chapel. On State Road 52, near Bellamy Brothers Boulevard, their 1991 Geo Prizm ran off the road and flipped. Mrs. Hancock was ejected and the car landed on top of her. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Two months later, Donald Hancock was charged in her death. The Florida Highway Patrol said his blood alcohol level was 0.25, more than three times the level at which Florida law presumes a driver is impaired.

A few months later, he pleaded guilty to DUI manslaughter and received 15 years probation. He could have been given that much time in prison, but Irene Hancock's family told the judge her husband deserved a second chance.

Family members on Wednesday described how he worked seven days a week in restaurant jobs. His niece said he helps her care for her disabled child.

But police said that on Nov. 14 he was out again at 3 a.m., driving on U.S. 19 near Floramar Terrace in Holiday. Officer Chris Denton pulled him over for failing to stop before making a U-turn at a flashing red light. Denton said Hancock's eyes were glassy, his speech was slurred and his breath smelled like alcohol.

In a video of his field sobriety exercises, shown in court Wednesday, Hancock sometimes swayed and stumbled but completed most of the tests successfully. He refused to give a breath sample. He went to trial on the DUI charge last month and was found not guilty.

But that still left the question of whether that charge was a violation of his probation, which requires a lower standard of proof.

In criminal court, prosecutors must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. In a violation of probation, they need only show a preponderance of the evidence.

In arguing for mercy, Hancock's mother, Linda Raines, said her son still calls her crying with guilt.

"He can't forgive himself," Raines said. "He's tried but he just can't."

Siracusa said he took that into account.

"I have no doubt that you have remorse for this still," the judge said, "but I can't find that this was an isolated incident."

Molly Moorhead can be moorhead@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6245.

Probation violation sends man to prison 13 years after crash that killed wife 03/17/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 17, 2010 9:05pm]
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