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St. Petersburg man's 20-year sentence in vehicular homicide not enough for one victim's mother

When medical personnel arrived on the scene of a deadly eight-vehicle crash on U.S. 19 on June 19, Daniel Barga told officials he was the passenger in this truck that triggered the accident. Authorities searched for a fictitious driver they never found.

Special to the Times

When medical personnel arrived on the scene of a deadly eight-vehicle crash on U.S. 19 on June 19, Daniel Barga told officials he was the passenger in this truck that triggered the accident. Authorities searched for a fictitious driver they never found.

LARGO — There will be no trial for Daniel Barga.

The 27-year-old St. Petersburg man will not get the maximum 50-year sentence for causing a crash that took two young lives. One victim's mother will never get the chance to tell a jury of the pain she's endured.

The judge's decision Monday to accept a plea agreement in the case was too much for Gema Schaffer, who lost her only son in the June crash Barga caused.

"I can't,'' she wailed and rushed from the packed courtroom after Circuit Judge Chris Helinger said she intended to allow Barga to plead guilty to two vehicular manslaughter charges.

For several minutes, Schaffer's agonized cries from the hallway accompanied the hearing that continued in Courtroom 4 at the Criminal Justice Center.

She was not in the courtroom when Helinger formally accepted the plea and sentenced Barga to 20 years in prison. Barga also pleaded guilty to driving without a valid license, driving under the influence and possession of a controlled substance. His driving privileges will be permanently revoked.

Barga, who will turn 28 next week, was high on prescription pain medication and was traveling about 70 mph in a 45 mph construction zone when he slammed into several cars on U.S. 19 in Clearwater on June 19.

The eight-car pileup killed 22-year-old Jancarlos "JC" Schaffer, and 23-year-old Richard Kelly, both of Odessa. Several other people were injured.

Barga originally told investigators he was a passenger, and not the driver, of the Chevy Avalanche that caused the crash. He was arrested five days later, after the Chevy's vehicle data recorder indicated that the passenger seat was unoccupied at the time of the wreck.

At Monday's hearing, Barga told the judge he has been depressed since the accident and has "episodes where I cry uncontrollably."

Before her departure, Gema Schaffer scoffed at Barga's statement.

"I cry because I can't hold my kid. You cry for you. I cry for my kid," she said.

Schaffer said Barga had a chance at a pretrial hearing last week to apologize for killing her son.

"You could have apologized to me last week, but you didn't. You're only looking out for your best interest," she said.

She referred to Barga's record as a habitual traffic offender and urged Helinger to give Barga more time "so we can have safer streets."

Like Schaffer, prosecutors wanted Barga to serve more than 20 years.

But Helinger said she found the plea agreement "reasonable" and said she hoped it would offer "an early resolution" to the case.

Helinger acknowledged that the victims' families were not happy with her verdict.

"There is no amount of years which can bring back your boy," she told Kelly's mother, who remained in the courtroom.

"My only hope for the families is at least you can start processing your grief."

Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.

St. Petersburg man's 20-year sentence in vehicular homicide not enough for one victim's mother 11/15/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 16, 2010 12:13am]
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