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Tampa tow truck driver gets 35-year sentence after losing 'stand your ground' case

TAMPA — Glen "Chuck" Rich's 6-year-old daughter didn't realize death was forever. His little boy searched the house, asking "Where's Dad?"

For six years, his wife had to tell the truth when they asked what happened to the tow truck driver who shot their father:

He was out there, free.

On Friday, after a sentencing in Hillsborough court, she could tell them something else: Donald Rivera, 50, would go to prison for 35 years.

This week marked more than the official end to his freedom.

It closed the most litigated case his defense attorney had ever fought, which included a failed invocation of Florida's "stand your ground" law.

And it brought to light what prosecutors called a lie he had been living for years — a double life as Donald Montanez, an honest, hard-working businessman. The real Donald Rivera has a history of impersonating cops and convictions in three states.

In March, six jurors decided Rivera was guilty of third-degree murder for his actions on Jan. 8, 2006, when he shot a man who tried to drive off in his own car after Rivera illegally towed it. Rivera has been in jail since the conviction, awaiting his sentence.

On Friday, Circuit Judge William Fuente heard from the family of 30-year-old Rich, who tried to convey the long-lasting impact of their loss.

His wife was number one.

Adama Rich told of the call she got from her husband, who struggled to breathe after he had been shot.

"I could hear fear and tears in his voice," she said. "And I remember him saying that he loved me and he was sorry that he was going to die."

He was the man who walked their daughter from their north Tampa apartment to the school bus, then came home to play with their toddler. He would look at his wife with tears in her eyes, and tell her he was a lucky man, and promise that one day, he'd give her nice things.

On her 25th birthday, he bought her a Chrysler Sebring. Five months later, Rivera tried to take it away.

Rich and his brothers, who had left an E Hillsborough Avenue club called the Sugar Shack, realized the car had been towed from its legal spot and tracked it down a block away. After an argument with towing employees, Rich got in the car and started the engine.

The defense has said that Rich's car was barreling toward Rivera when he fired the shot.

But prosecutors said Rich was angling away, and witnesses testified the shooter had pointed the gun at others, a weapon prosecutors said he lied to buy.

On Friday, the defense asked the judge to limit the sentence to 25 years, the minimum under state law.

Prosecutors asked for life.

Rivera's defense attorneys say they plan to appeal the 35-year sentence.

Adama Rich says her son, who is now 8, has asked her if God would return his father if he prays hard enough. She said she told him to pray, instead, for justice.

She says she is satisfied with the judge's decision.

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3354.

Tampa tow truck driver gets 35-year sentence after losing 'stand your ground' case 06/29/12 [Last modified: Saturday, June 30, 2012 10:00am]
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