BROOKSVILLE — For months, the family of Josefa Rodriguez thought that the motorcyclist who ran a red light on Spring Hill Drive and killed her last July would wind up behind bars.
The family lost that hope earlier this year when the State Attorney's Office decided there wasn't enough evidence to file criminal charges against 31-year-old James Paul Conaty.
This week, a judge ordered Conaty to give up his license for six months and pay a fine of $1,149 as punishment for running the light.
The punishment pales in comparison to what Conaty of Spring Hill would have faced had prosecutors decided to file a charge such as DUI manslaughter or vehicular homicide.
Investigators suspected that Conaty was under the influence of drugs when he ran the light at Aerial Way and collided with Rodriguez, 73, who was crossing the westbound lanes of Spring Hill Drive. Florida Highway Patrol investigators determined that Conaty was traveling at least 45 mph on his 2007 Suzuki at the time. Witnesses said he was going much faster than the posted speed limit of 55 mph and had been weaving in and out of lanes just before he entered the intersection.
While searching for the injured motorcyclist's driver's license, a Highway Patrol trooper found in Conaty's wallet two unfilled prescriptions for pain medications, including oxycodone.
More suspicious, however, was the prescription bottle of alprazolam later found in another pocket. Sold under the brand name Xanax, the drug is in the class of benzodiazepines used to treat anxiety disorders.
Toxicology results for blood drawn from Conaty while he was in the hospital showed only the presence of another benzodiazepine called midazolam. Investigators learned that paramedics treating him had administered the same drug at the scene.
That meant there was no way to confirm whether Conaty had a benzodiazepine in his system at the time of the crash, and if he did, whether it was enough to impair him.
That news disappointed Rodriguez's family, especially given Conaty's driving history, which includes tickets for speeding and careless driving and three charges of DUI that led to injuries for other drivers.
The first of those came in 1999, when Conaty swerved into the opposite lane of traffic and struck a car driven by a 65-year-old man who nearly died in the crash. Conaty had a blood-alcohol level of 0.205, more than twice the threshold at which Florida law presumes that someone is unable to safely drive a motor vehicle. He served more than two years in prison and was ordered to pay $510,500 in restitution.
Rodriguez's loved ones fear Conaty will harm or kill someone else on the road, but they also are ready for closure, said her son-in-law, Joe Costanzo.
"What's done is done," Costanzo said, "and we're putting it behind us,"
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.