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Young woman gets 25 years in prison for fatal crash at St. Petersburg liquor store

LARGO — A young woman who was driving without a license was sentenced to 25 years in prison for causing a crash that killed one person, disabled another and hurt several more.

Denise Battles, 19, was sentenced for driving a truck into a crowd in October at Ike's Liquors, 1205 S Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St., St. Petersburg. She pleaded no contest earlier this year to vehicular homicide and other charges, without a plea bargain.

Her attorney, Mark Thellman, said Battles "does have remorse; she wants to take responsibility." He asked that she be sentenced as a youthful offender, with a maximum sentence of six years.

But Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Chris Helinger said Battles' "horrendous criminal activity" deserved more punishment.

Helinger said Battles had many opportunities to avoid the collision that killed Steven Mincey, 49, and severely injured James Robert Lewis, 68 — including not driving in the first place.

"Mr. Mincey's dead. Mr. Lewis is a vegetable. Your girlfriend in the front seat was injured. Several other people were injured."

The judge told Battles she was lucky that her mother was available to raise Battles' 1-year-old daughter.

Battles was 18 when she apparently lost control of a rented 2008 Dodge Ram and smashed into the crowd at a high speed.

She was driving so fast that the truck severed the leg of Mincey, who was riding his bicycle at the time she careened into the parking lot. The truck also struck a fire hydrant, which flew into the air and severely injured Lewis, 68. The truck struck a curb and flipped, hitting four parked vehicles and several pedestrians.

Although sentenced Monday, Battles also spoke about the crash at a court hearing in May.

"I'm truly sorry for what has happened," Battles said in May. "Not only have I hurt the victims, I hurt my own family as well." She also apologized during a hearing earlier this month.

Battles also acknowledged in May that, "I have a major drug problem and a lot of issues" and said, "I really wish and pray that I could take that day back."

Police noticed Battles driving erratically just before the crash and tried to get her to stop, but instead she sped north on Martin Luther King Jr. Street S. Police said they did not chase her.

After the collision, "She said 'Mom, I killed somebody, I didn't mean to do it,' " her mother, JoAnn Booker, said in May. Battles' mother also added an apology of her own: "I want to tell the family that I'm very sorry."

On Monday, Booker, with her 1-year-old granddaughter in tow, said the sentence was harsher than she had hoped.

Relatives of Lewis and Mincey said they thought the sentence was fair, and that they had worried Battles would get a break because of her youth.

Young woman gets 25 years in prison for fatal crash at St. Petersburg liquor store 06/29/09 [Last modified: Monday, June 29, 2009 10:36pm]
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