TAMPA — A brain-damaged Marine captain who was promised treatment rather than prison after he killed another motorist while driving drunk in 2010 wept Friday when he learned that a knot of red tape in two states stands between him and his medical care.
After an hour of brainstorming, even a judge, his defense attorney and a prosecutor could only partly untangle the knot.
"Imagine what chance the average injured veteran would have without all this help," said John Fitzgibbons, the attorney for Scott Sciple, the Marine who suffers from traumatic brain injury.
Shortly after his transfer to MacDill Air Force Base in August 2010, Sciple drove the wrong way on Interstate 275, killing a 48-year-old father of five. His blood-alcohol level was three times the level at which the state presumes someone is impaired. Last year, the Marine Corps made an extraordinary admission that it failed to diagnose and treat Sciple for his combat-related brain injuries and never should have sent him to MacDill.
In May, the widow of crash victim Pedro Rivera told a judge she was convinced Sciple needed medical care more than prison. "We can't just keep doing things to people who need help," Carmen Rodriguez said.
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Lisa Campbell agreed to send Sciple to Poplar Springs Psychiatric Hospital in Petersburg, Va., a locked facility that specializes in military-related disorders. He could have been sentenced to 15 years in prison.
But Sciple soon exhausted his medical coverage at the $1,000-a-day facility and now owes $85,000.
Fitzgibbons found an alternative: a combat rehabilitation center in Galveston, Texas, sponsored by a nonprofit group called Project Victory.
Sciple's parents in Alabama rented a condo in Galveston to help out.
But then they ran into conflicting state rules.
In order for Sciple to go to Texas, the Department of Corrections there would have accept his transfer from the Florida Department of Corrections. An application usually takes 45 days to review. There's no guarantee of acceptance.
Florida corrections officials have granted Sciple only a 30-day travel permit to visit his parents in Alabama.
So for now, Sciple can only go to Alabama for a month, where he will have a nightly curfew and wear electronic monitors. At the end of those 30 days, he may have no place else to go. There's no plan yet in place if the Texas corrections department doesn't accept him, Fitzgibbons said. The judge asked to see the lawyers again on Sept. 28 to update the situation.
Florida corrections officials have asked Texas to expedite a review.
As Judge Campbell, Fitzgibbons and Assistant State Attorney Barbara Coleman sought solutions, Sciple looked on via a video hookup from Virginia. The Marine, who is now discharged, looked upset and confused, tears running down his face.
"Do you understand what's going on?" Fitzgibbons asked him.
"I think so," he said haltingly. "I'm going to Alabama, but we don't know about Texas."
He'll leave Virginia in a couple of days, escorted by Wounded Warriors.