TAMPA — Until his probation ends, Anthony Urso must carry a picture in his wallet of a smiling 27-year-old woman to remind him what happened three years ago when prosecutors say he drove twice the speed limit and crashed into a tree.
Amberle Mervine died the night of Nov. 17, 2006.
Urso, 26, was charged with vehicular homicide, but pleaded no contest Wednesday to a lesser charge of reckless driving with serious bodily injury. Doing so, he got five years' probation instead of a maximum of five years in prison.
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Daniel Sleet withheld adjudication.
His victim's widower wanted prison time. Adam Mervine, wearing a silver stamp of his wife's fingerprint around his neck, looked Urso in the eye when he spoke from a courtroom podium:
"You, Anthony Urso, didn't just take my wife away from me, you took my dreams, mine and Amberle's legacy, and generations of our family."
They'd met as boy and girl and dated when they grew up. They were married for more than a year, he said. They had picked out the names of their future children.
Amberle Mervine had met Urso when he delivered water to her office at the Department of Juvenile Justice.
While her husband worked late, they went for a short ride in his BMW. She wasn't wearing a seat belt.
Urso had been drinking, officials said, but wasn't legally impaired. In a 35 mph zone, he was driving between 68 and 73, prosecutors said. Urso's attorney disputes that speed.
His attorney, Stephen Romine, said that according to a federal study, the road's shoulder was too deep. Urso's tire caught it and he spun out. Romine called what happened an accident, not a crime, but said Urso pleaded no contest because he wanted to resolve the matter.
The impact fractured Mervine's skull and lacerated her brain stem. She died at the scene.
Her husband expected her to come home to him that night, to cuddle on the couch with him and watch a movie.
He told the driver what happened instead.
"Imagine coming home from work frantically searching for your wife for three hours not knowing why she isn't answering her phone, like she always did. …
"Imagine feeling helpless. …
"Imagine being approached in your driveway by a man in casual attire and an unmarked police car, asking if he can talk to you for a minute inside, having no idea that what you are about to hear is that your wife has been killed in a car accident due to the negligence of someone else.
"Imagine being in shock and denial and not believing the detective sitting on your couch, repeating over and over, 'You're lying. You're lying. Oh, my God. This can't be happening.'
"Imagine him showing you your wife's blood-covered jewelry in a ziplock bag.
"Imagine going to bed that evening without your wife next to you for the first time in seven years and waking up in the morning hoping that it was all a horrible nightmare, and realizing it isn't. …
"Imagine not being able to open your wife's closet door for two years and to this day still not being able to get rid of her stuff because it's less of her you'll have with you.
"Imagine sleeping every night with your hand resting on her silk pajamas on the bed next to you where she slept because, for just long enough to get you to sleep, you can imagine her lying there with your hand on her back like you used to.
"You can't imagine these things because they didn't happen to you.
"They happened to me because of you."
Urso held back tears as he listened.
He said nothing to Amberle Mervine's family. Not after her mother cried. Not after her father told him, "You have killed my daughter. You have killed my joy. You have destroyed my life."
Urso's attorney said that his client feels horrible for what happened, but that he hasn't been able to express that to the family because of the open case.
Along with the picture he'll have to carry as part of his probation, Urso must pay $3,000 in restitution, lose his driver's license for three years and complete 100 hours of community service in a hospital or trauma center.
And to her widower, Urso must write a letter of apology.
Alexandra Zayas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3354.