TAMPA — It was the first time Susanne Meyers spoke to the families of two people she left to die in a ditch on a dark Ruskin road on July 1, 2011.
Reading from notes, Meyers, 53, said on Thursday that she was a retired nurse who would never knowingly leave someone injured.
"I wish there was something I could have done to help them," Meyers said before a judge handed down her sentence. "It all happened so quickly that I think I was stunned."
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Lisa Campbell said Meyers' suggestion that she didn't know she was in a crash defied logic. Campbell sentenced Meyers to 20 years in prison, followed by 10 years of probation for leaving the scene of a crash.
Campbell said Meyers had taken no responsibility for her actions. As the judge spoke, Meyers shook her head no, but Campbell said it no longer mattered.
"This court believes strongly that you left the scene on this particular day because you had been drinking and you were more concerned that you were going to be arrested for perhaps DUI manslaughter.
This court's gut feeling is that is exactly what you were doing."
Jurors convicted Meyers, 53, in February after hearing testimony from her now ex-husband, who had noticed blood dripping from her car when he came home. When he tried to call 911, Meyers ripped the house telephone from the wall. She took his cell phone too, but he eventually retrieved it and called sheriff's deputies.
Meyers had hit and killed two motorcyclists, Galilee Wells Howard, 69 and Thomas Steven Colson, 62.
James Pugh, Howard's son-in-law, spoke haltingly Thursday on behalf of her family. They had wanted to know why.
Colson's sister and ex-wife both told Meyers they saw no remorse in her and they were going to be sad forever.
Meyers said she was sorry, but her attorney had told her to contain herself.
"Don't think I don't have any remorse, because I do," Meyers said. "I didn't even see them. I never saw what it was, I swear."
Colson's two adult children watched from a bench in the courtroom.
Julian and Stephanie Colson could have been spared the gory details of the crash, they said, if Meyers had pleaded guilty.
Instead, they had heard testimony from a driver who ran over something in the road and stopped to find it was a boot, with Thomas Steven Colson's leg still inside. That driver then looked in the ditch and saw the two bodies.
The siblings weren't ready to speak to Meyers. They had pushed their father's body into a crematory, and now his remains sit on Julian's mantel.
He plans to get a Harley Davidson style urn.
Sometimes he talks to his father, he said. He thinks his father would be happy with Meyer's sentence.
"If she had stopped," the son said, "Maybe he wouldn't have bled to death in that ditch."
Maybe he would have lived to realize his dream of riding his motorcycle to the desert and the mountains.
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3431.