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Plea deal spares truck driver prison time or retrial in road deaths case

WAUCHULA — Eight years of legal uncertainty ended Friday afternoon as Jean Claude Meus pleaded no contest to two counts of vehicular homicide in a deal that allowed him to walk away from the Hardee County Courthouse for good.

A judge decided he'd already served enough prison time.

Meus was sentenced to time served and one day of probation. The court withheld adjudication of guilt.

Meus turned to Largo attorney John Trevina, who represented him for free, and called him a hero.

"It takes a big heart to do what you've done for me," Meus told Trevina.

Meus, 45, a Haitian immigrant, has been in and out of court — and prison — since a May night in 2001 when the Florida Highway Patrol determined that he caused a deadly crash by falling asleep behind the wheel of a semitrailer truck filled with tomatoes.

Nona A. Moore, 40, and her daughter, Lindsay, 8, were killed instantly after the minivan they were in collided with Meus' truck at a fork in the road known as Seven Mile Point in rural Hardee County.

Meus was sentenced in 2005 to 15 years in state prison for vehicular homicide. But Hardee County Circuit Judge Jeff McKibben granted Meus a new trial last year after an appeals court cleared the way for a new witness to testify — a man who contradicted prosecutors' claims that Meus fell asleep at the wheel and cause the fatal crash.

His name was Juan Otero, a volunteer firefighter and the first responder at the crash scene.

Meus, who now resides in Tennessee with his wife, Rebecca Chenoweth, has captured the support of many in his battle for justice. Chief among them are Nona Moore's family members.

On Friday, the judge told Meus he hopes the example of compassion shown by Moore's family will allow him to live a life without bitterness.

He said he hoped to leave Florida on Monday and return to Tennessee with his wife.

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at rcatalanello@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3383.

Plea deal spares truck driver prison time or retrial in road deaths case 07/24/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 24, 2009 4:49pm]
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