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Spring Hill man pleads guilty in death of bicyclist

BROOKSVILLE — A Spring Hill man received nearly 12 years in prison Thursday for a May 2008 accident that killed a 17-year-old riding a bicycle.

Leo Salvato, 37, pleaded guilty to second-degree DUI manslaughter as relatives of Scott Avery, a student and football player at Nature Coast Technical High School, watched silently in the courtroom.

Salvato hit Avery from behind the night of May 31 as he drove east on Powell Road, near Gloucester Road, south of Brooksville. Avery died at the scene of the crash and Salvato fled. He was arrested 2 miles away.

Toxicology results later showed Salvato had been driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.158 percent, nearly twice the limit where Florida law presumes impairment.

Salvato, a habitual traffic offender with a lengthy arrest record, initially faced a maximum 30 years in prison for a first-degree DUI manslaughter charge and a second count for driving without a valid license.

But the prosecutor struck a plea deal after Salvato's defense attorney challenged aspects of the charges.

Attorney Robert Whittel of Spring Hill said witnesses indicated Avery swerved in front of the car.

Whittel also said his client stopped at the scene after his 1997 Saturn flipped but landed on its wheels, and asked if anyone was hurt.

Rather than go to trial Monday, Assistant State Attorney Bill Catto agreed to reduce the severity of the first charge and dropped the second. It only meant about two years less in prison. "We didn't give that much up with what we could have got," Catto said.

Avery was one of two teenage boys riding bicycles who died that night.

An hour earlier, Justin White, a junior at Hernando High School, was struck while riding on Cedar Lane in Brooksville. He later died at the hospital. The driver, Timothy D. Price, 46, was not charged, court records indicate.

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114.

Spring Hill man pleads guilty in death of bicyclist 05/07/09 [Last modified: Thursday, May 7, 2009 7:36pm]
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