LARGO — Daniel Dalton Dolcater is a kind and caring young man with a future, his friends and family members said Friday.
But here's the problem, a judge said: So are others who drive drunk and kill people.
"Almost everybody with a DUI-manslaughter … is basically a good kid or a good father or a good student or a good something," Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Nancy Moate Ley said. "And then they got drunk or got high, or both, and got behind the wheel of a car."
Dolcater, who turns 21 on Monday and has never had a driver's license, drunkenly sped away from police on Sept. 30 and smashed into a car in St. Pete Beach, killing two people.
After Dolcater pleaded guilty on Friday to two counts of DUI-manslaughter and other charges, Ley sentenced him to 21 years in prison.
Defense attorney Jay Hebert had asked Ley to sentence Dolcater as a youthful offender to a six-year prison term, an option for defendants younger than 21.
She rejected that, saying it was not only her job to protect society from murderers and rapists, but also "from the people who could kill any of our families."
Dolcater sobbed through most of the nearly two-hour court hearing, and plenty of tears also flowed from family and friends, many of whom spoke on his behalf.
But each turned to the sister and mother of victim Pablo Mansilla Aguinaga, 32, of Tampa, and readily acknowledged that the family had suffered even more than they had. Family members of the other victim, Sandra Paulson, 33, of Schaumberg, Ill., were not able to attend Friday's hearing.
Dolcater himself said, "The least I can do is apologize and hope you can find it somewhere in your tender hearts to grant me forgiveness." He said he wished he could trade places with Aguinaga.
Aguinaga's sister Melissa said no verdict or sentence was going to make up for the family's loss, especially not to her brother's young daughters, who live in Peru, the country where Melissa and Pablo were born.
"I won't ever get to see my brother again," said Aguinaga, who said she is scheduled to graduate today from law school in Jacksonville. Her brother was studying at Hillsborough Community College and hoped to go into computer science, she said.
Referring to the possible youthful-offender sentence, she said it wasn't right that her brother was killed "and the man responsible wants to be treated like a child."
Among the friends who spoke on Dolcater's behalf were volunteer coaches in St. Petersburg who said Dolcater always was willing to help out with youth baseball games and babysitting younger kids.
One of the friends was newly elected St. Petersburg City Council member Charlie Gerdes, who said he prayed daily for the families of the victims, but also believed Dolcater "is a young man who has something that he can be redeemed for." Michael Keane, a lawyer who knows the family, said Dolcater is surrounded by people who "support him — not his actions, but him as a person."
Although Dolcater originally faced a maximum penalty of as much as 75 years, Hebert and prosecutors negotiated Friday and agreed to cap the possible sentence at 21 years, provided Dolcater plead guilty. He did.
On the night of the crash, Dolcater was driving his father's car — without permission, his father said in court Friday.
A police officer clocked Dolcater going 69 mph in a 35 mph zone and turned on the flashing lights. But Dolcater sped up and crashed into the car with Aguinaga and Paulson inside. The SUV Dolcater was driving flipped and landed in a fountain at the Alden Beach Resort.
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Curtis Krueger can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8232.