TAMPA — It was a stupid decision, he said.
Paul Michael Parks — a husband, father, coach, churchgoer and friend — got drunk Dec. 19, 2009, then got behind the wheel of his truck and killed a woman in a head-on collision.
The decision was out of character, a judge learned. Parks, 37, had no criminal history. The woman he hit, a mother and grandmother named Karen Weaver, 47, was also drunk. The two had the same blood-alcohol level, more than twice the level that presumes impairment.
Parks could have been sentenced Thursday to a decade or more in prison. Instead, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Manuel Lopez gave him four years.
"I awake every morning with a realization of my actions," Parks told Lopez. "I awake every day with a hole in my soul."
The party that night, at the home of a sheriff's deputy, was put on by parents of girls Parks coached on a local softball team. Parks said he almost didn't go, but after eating dinner with his wife and two daughters, he decided to make an appearance.
When he got there, he saw blenders swirling with mixed drinks and people passing around shots of liquor. He took two. He also downed five to seven beers.
Other party guests would later tell investigators they were worried about Parks and wanted to take away his keys. But he left before anyone voiced concern.
He was less than a mile away, on the 45-mph Big Bend Road, when Parks, heading east, veered into westbound lanes at 70 mph.
"She didn't stand a chance that night," prosecutor Barbara Coleman said of Weaver, who tried to brake before Parks hit her.
Weaver's death left her small, close-knit family smaller, Coleman said, reading a letter written by Weaver's brother, Charles.
Parks died a little, too, his attorney said. Friends and family approached Lopez and tearfully told him what a good guy Parks is. They talked about his volunteer work, his tenderness toward his family and his obvious remorse.
Coleman argued that Parks was egregiously irresponsible the night of the crash and that he should get at least 10 years.
She questioned whether Parks had a drinking problem, noting that he regularly attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
Parks said he goes to the meetings to remind himself of the damage alcohol can do. He said he'll never drink again. He said he hopes his story will dissuade others from driving drunk.
Lopez said it seemed Parks had learned a great deal, and that the incident was isolated.
"I don't want to diminish or mitigate the gigantic loss felt by the victim's family," Lopez said. "I struggle with this, to find a balance between punishment and justice."
With that, he handed Parks the minimum mandatory sentence.
Parks exhaled, turned to a Hillsborough sheriff's deputy and prepared to be processed.
Reach Kim Wilmath at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813-226-3337.