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Tampa woman gets 6 years in prison for violating DUI manslaughter probation

A Hillsborough County sheriff’s bailiff prepares to escort Tiffany Graham from the courtroom after she was sentenced.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times

A Hillsborough County sheriff’s bailiff prepares to escort Tiffany Graham from the courtroom after she was sentenced.

TAMPA — Tiffany Marie Graham admitted to a judge Wednesday that she drank "a couple cups" of liquor on a beach trip last month.

But drinking and then driving — both off limits for a woman on probation for DUI manslaughter — weren't what landed her a six-year prison sentence.

Instead, she sealed her fate by leaving Hillsborough County without permission from her probation officer.

"This is someone who has not learned from her mistakes," Assistant State Attorney Barbara Coleman said.

First mistake: At 19, Graham was intoxicated when she got behind the wheel in May 2004 and turned into the path of an oncoming car. One of her passengers, 15-year-old Deanna Cain, was thrown from the car and killed.

Graham faced up to 15 years in prison. A judge gave her a break, sentencing her to one year in jail, six years of probation and 200 hours of community service.

Second mistake: In March, she violated her probation by picking up a petty theft charge.

Third mistake: On June 20, she violated her probation again.

This time, authorities say, she sped into the Caddy's on the Beach bar parking lot in Treasure Island, bumped a parked vehicle and walked away.

Graham, 25, has pleaded not guilty in Pinellas County to misdemeanor charges of driving under the influence, driving with a revoked license and leaving the scene of a crash with property damage, which could bring another yearlong jail sentence.

In court Wednesday, with her parents looking on, Graham admitted drinking.

"Were you involved in an accident?" Hillsborough Circuit Judge Daniel Perry asked.

"No, your honor," Graham said.

Her public defender said that Graham had gone to the beach with her cousin. She didn't drive the car there, attorney Catherine Orazi said, but simply moved it from one spot to another at the request of parking lot attendees.

Pinellas-Pasco Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett provided the St. Petersburg Times with a different account.

He said Graham was beeping the car's horn from the passenger seat, frustrated that her cousin was taking too long to retrieve a cooler from the beach. He said she got in the driver's seat, backed out of the parking lot at a high rate of speed and then sped back in, hitting another car in the process.

The valet workers denied asking her to move the car, Bartlett said.

"She got out of the car and said, 'I'm drunk. I'm on probation for manslaughter. I killed my best friend,' " Bartlett said.

A portable breath test measured her blood-alcohol level at 0.226 percent, police said. Under state law, a person is presumed impaired at 0.08 percent.

Orazi said her client needs long-term treatment, not incarceration, for alcohol abuse and mental health issues.

"It was a terrible, terrible accident by a young girl who shouldn't have been driving," Orazi said. "Basically, a teenager making a very bad decision. She's been trying to deal with that all these years."

Unmoved, Perry sentenced Graham to six years in prison, the maximum she could face as a youthful offender.

Karen Cain, Deanna's mother, was unable to attend the hearing due to health reasons. She said later that she wishes the best for Graham.

"She needs to get help so it doesn't happen again," Cain said. "She has to live with it just like we do."

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

Tampa woman gets 6 years in prison for violating DUI manslaughter probation 07/21/10 [Last modified: Thursday, July 22, 2010 12:47am]
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