LARGO — What began as an Anclote River boat trip to watch the sunset nearly four years ago ended Monday with a 15-year prison sentence for the boat's driver, a Tarpon Springs father who killed his friend after crashing into a dock while drunk.
Matthew Aime, now 26, was piloting a 14-foot aluminum johnboat before midnight on Nov. 17, 2005, when he veered onto mud flats and smashed into a dock. The collision paralyzed Robin Raihan, 50, who fell into the water with a broken back and drowned.
Aime's blood alcohol level was 0.16, twice the limit at which Florida presumes someone is impaired.
On April 30, a jury found Aime guilty of boating under the influence manslaughter, and reckless operation of a vessel.
At his sentencing Monday, 13 people who identified themselves as cousins, construction supervisors, neighbors and best friends of Aime pleaded for leniency from Judge Cynthia Newton. They called the father of three a hard worker and servant who puts others before himself.
"He stood beside his father on his death bed," Aime's mother, Katherine Aime, said through tears. "He tried to help people who couldn't be helped. He didn't give up on them."
Raihan, whose family came to neither the trial nor the sentencing, was new to the country from Albania, Katherine Aime said.
Though twice Aime's age, Raihan asked Aime for lessons on how to grill food and pilot a boat.
Aime "was the last person who wanted to see Mr. Raihan die," said Aime's attorney, Clementine "CC" Conde. "He was like a brother to him. He was a best friend."
State prosecutors portrayed Aime in a different light: as a repeat offender whose criminal conduct proved deadly. Aime, who pleaded guilty to battery in 2001, was on felony probation for trafficking ecstasy the night of the accident. Newton added that Aime had violated probation before.
"The defendant has a long criminal history," one prosecutor told Newton. "This is not his second chance. He has already used up all his second chances."
Also damning, Newton said, was the fact that Tarpon Springs police had met with Aime and the boat's other passengers — his sister, Amanda Aime, former girlfriend Cassandra Stuttle and Raihan — the night of the crash.
Matthew Aime and Stuttle were involved in a fight at a bar on the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks and were instructed to leave by police. Officers told Amanda Aime, a pregnant woman and the only one in the group who had not been drinking that night, to drive the boat home.
Amanda Aime, 20, was not hurt in the crash. Stuttle, 26, did not come to the sentencing but said during the trial she suffered a gash across her forehead and a torn rotator cuff.
Conde said outside the courtroom that an appeal would be filed within 30 days.
"I think that he was young and he made a mistake," Conde said after the sentencing. "It was a big mistake for everyone that night."
Drew Harwell can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4170.