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Driver gets six years in Brooksville fatality

BROOKSVILLE — Sherri Collins found herself in an all too familiar role and an all too familiar place.

As a victim, she sat on the front row in the courtroom Thursday, struggling to hold back tears as she watched the errant driver who killed her boyfriend appear before a judge.

Darrell Newberry, 25, died in October 2007 when James C. Morris drove into him as Newberry took the trash to the curb outside his home on Elgin Boulevard in Spring Hill.

Morris, 22, stood before Circuit Judge Jack Springstead to accept a plea deal that will put him in prison for six years.

The deal came at the behest of Newberry's relatives, including Collins, 24.

But they didn't do it out of mercy. They feared the risk of going to trial.

To understand, consider what happened to Collins' 23-year-old brother, Marc, two years earlier.

He died in a car wreck in December 2005 — a passenger in a car driven by a drunk driver with a suspended license.

A judge took a look at the record of the driver, Brian Gomes, and called him "one of the worst drivers in Hernando County."

But at a February trial, a jury found Gomes not responsible for his passenger's death and acquitted him of DUI manslaughter.

Gomes served a year in county jail for driving drunk, but Marc Collins' death went unrecognized.

"He pretty much got away with it," Sherri Collins said. So this time she was determined not to let it happen again. "I didn't want to go to trial," she said.

Morris' attorney planned to make it a tough case with numerous motions to dismiss key evidence about the marijuana and other drugs found in his system.

Assistant State Attorney Bill Catto, who also handled the Gomes case, was confident he would prevail. But he acknowledged: "They are a close call, and we didn't want to take a chance."

Morris, who had no previous criminal record, agreed to accept a guilty verdict on the lesser charge of aggravated battery.

If the case went to trial, he faced a maximum of 15 years in prison with a minimum 10 1/2 years behind bars, Catto said.

Knowing this, the judge repeatedly asked Collins whether she wanted him to go forward with the plea deal.

She nodded her head "yes."

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114.

Driver gets six years in Brooksville fatality 01/29/09 [Last modified: Thursday, January 29, 2009 6:59pm]
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