BROOKSVILLE — A Spring Hill man that prosecutors called "one of the worst drivers in Hernando County" received 11 months in jail Thursday on charges of misdemeanor driving under the influence and driving with a suspended license.
Brian Gomes, 26, initially faced a much lengthier sentence, but a jury acquitted him Feb. 20 on charges of DUI manslaughter in the death of his friend Marc Collins, 23, in December 2005.
The verdict meant Gomes would have been sentenced as a first-time offender — with the maximum punishment of eight months in county jail — despite his extensive criminal background that includes previous convictions on three DUI charges.
But Assistant State Attorney Bill Catto cited a legal precedent that allowed the judge to sentence Gomes as if it was his second drunken-driving conviction because the charge is still a misdemeanor.
"Mr. Gomes has a ferocious driving record," Catto argued.
"Almost all of his criminal history involves really atrocious driving. Mr. Gomes is one of our worst drivers in Hernando County."
"I would agree his driving record is horrendous," added Circuit Judge Jack Springstead.
The judge gave Gomes the maximum time in jail on the DUI charge, nine months, and stacked on top the maximum 60-day sentence for driving with a suspended license. He also put Gomes on one year of probation and ordered him to pay $1,460 in fines. Catto said the state would likely permanently revoke his driving privileges.
"This sentence is based on your driving record," Springstead told Gomes. "You are aware of it. I don't have to sit here and tell you about it."
Gomes shed the dark suit and tie he wore at trial, and appeared ready for jail dressed in a plain white T-shirt and black jeans with white athletic shoes.
Still, the outcome did not please Collins' mother, Beverly Thomason, who sat in the front row of the courtroom and balked when the issue of restitution came up. The judge informed her there was no restitution because the jury found Gomes not guilty in her son's death. As the proceedings concluded, and Gomes was placed in handcuffs, Thomason stormed out of the courtroom.
Outside, she cooled down while Collins' grandfather Ralph Tully tried to put the ordeal in perspective.
"Eleven months total for taking a (life)?" he asked. "That's a small price to pay."
Thomason previously wrote the judge a letter that included a poem describing what her life was like after losing her only son. An excerpt:
"& I do not think the tears, the pain, everything will stop. I do not think it will. Since December 3, 2005, time has been standing still.
"I hope eventually life will go on. But right now I know I have to stay strong, I can see. When this is all over hopefully, I can return to being me!"
John Frank can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6114.