LARGO — David L. West looked at the parents of the teenage girl who died in an accident on his family's boat and told them: "I can't even really say how sorry I am for this terrible incident. Not a day goes by that I don't think about it."
The scene was a Pinellas County courtroom, seven months after the fatal accident involving West and four other teenagers, on what was supposed to be a pleasant night spent shark fishing on his parents' 22-foot boat with a 250-horsepower engine.
Though some of the youths had been drinking that night, including West, he was not legally drunk and was not charged with an alcohol-related offense. He pleaded guilty on Monday to careless operation of a vessel resulting in a boating accident, a second-degree misdemeanor, and was sentenced to six months' probation.
West, 18, also must perform 120 hours of community service, including speaking to other youths about the dangers of alcohol. He was ordered to get an alcohol evaluation and take a safe-boating course from the U.S. Coast Guard.
"Although the defendant's blood alcohol was low, there was witness testimony as well as evidence on board that there was alcohol involved," Assistant State Attorney Holly Grissinger said.
West's attorney, Denis de Vlaming, said West's blood-alcohol content of about 0.01 amounted to the equivalent of about one-third of a beer.
The girl who died was Paige Alyssa Davison, 17, a popular student and swimmer at St. Petersburg High School.
Her mother, Jill, stood in court near West on Monday and told him she did not think he was a bad person, that she understands what happened was an accident.
But she also asked tearfully for more answers — like who supplied the alcoholic beverages to the boys who got onto the boat with three teenage girls.
"I want the whole truth," she said.
"We'd like some real answers," added father Jeff Davison.
Afterward, Jill Davison and West spoke for several minutes at the end of a courthouse hallway, but neither wanted to speak to reporters after their talk.
A youth has been charged in juvenile court with supplying alcohol to the boys. That boy's name is not public record.
A lawsuit the Davisons filed against West has been voluntarily settled. Also, a convenience store manager, Rajesh Patel, has been charged with selling beer to two of the girls. His case is pending.
Although people can be charged with manslaughter for boating accidents, just as in car accidents, prosecutors said West's crime was not such a case because he was not drunk and had not acted recklessly enough to meet the legal criteria.
The accident occurred Oct. 2 when West, another boy and three girls took the boat into Tampa Bay. West and one of the boys, Trey Sorenson, had been drinking rum they had obtained earlier from the youth who is charged in juvenile court.
Sorenson's blood-alcohol level was 0.12, above the threshold of presumed impairment, when he was tested later that night. But he had not been piloting the boat, prosecutors said.
Sorenson passed out on the boat, and the other teenagers got worried and decided to head back to shore. As they did, their boat struck a poorly lit jetty near St. Petersburg's Albert Whitted Airport.
The jetty, which had been the site of previous boating accidents, was later removed.