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Tampa woman charged in fatal hit-and-run

TAMPA — Amanda Jean Bentz said she thinks about it every day. She can't sleep, can't forget.

On March 7 at about 9:30 p.m., the 21-year-old hit a pedestrian on W Waters and N Grady avenues and drove away. Bentz returned to the scene with her dad an hour later, but by that time 42-year-old Billy Leedan Ivy was dead.

For four months, Bentz has been restlessly wondering whether she would be charged with a crime. Word came Friday when a warrant was issued for Bentz's arrest. She turned herself in at the Orient Road Jail and was released on $15,000 bail.

"I'm relieved … the wait is over," Bentz said. "It's a big weight off my shoulders."

Bentz's arraignment is likely to be scheduled by next week, the State Attorney's Office said. Her charge, a first-degree felony of leaving the scene of a crash with death, could mean up to 30 years in prison.

Bentz won't talk about that part, other than to say her lawyer has been "pretty blunt" about what could happen. The lawyer, Kim Seace, declined to comment.

Seace was quoted in a March Times story about the crash saying there was "no grace period" when it comes to hit-and-runs.

At that time, the Sheriff's Office would only say that it had to complete its investigation and that the State Attorney's Office would make the decision about criminal charges.

State Attorney's spokesman Mark Cox said he could not comment on the case.

Bentz said Friday that she hasn't driven since that night. She took a break from classes at Keiser University, where she's studying crime-scene forensics.

She said she feels oddly paranoid, "like I've got to watch my back all the time. I don't know."

When asked if she would change anything about that night if she could, Bentz said she couldn't answer.

"I mean, you go into panic mode. You go into shock when it happens," Bentz said.

"He was a human being," she said of Ivy.

As she drove off, Bentz tried calling her father 10 times, Rob Bentz told the Times in March.

Then she called a friend, who took Bentz to the family's 6909 Summerbridge Drive home.

By that time, her father knew what happened, and he said they went back without hesitation.

While she waited for word from investigators, Bentz said she researched similar cases.

She Googled the names Jordan Valdez and Jennifer Porter. "They didn't go to jail," Bentz said.

In 2004, Jennifer Porter, then 28, hit four young siblings who were crossing a dark street near the school where Porter taught. Two died, and the others were seriously injured. Porter and her family called a lawyer days later, and Porter was sentenced to probation and community service.

Interestingly enough, Seace, now representing Bentz, was the lead prosecutor in Porter's case. She demanded then that Porter spend time in prison.

In February 2009, Jordan Valdez, then 16, hit a 33-year-old homeless woman, Melissa Sjostrom, on Hyde Park Avenue and drove home. The next day, when Valdez's parents learned that their daughter had been in an accident, they called a lawyer. Valdez was sentenced to probation in the juvenile system. Adjudication of guilt was withheld.

Ty Trayner, a Tampa lawyer who represented Valdez, said he's not sure whether Bentz can expect the same outcome.

"I mean whether it's a drive around the block, you know, leaving is leaving," Trayner said.

But given Bentz's age, Trayner guessed she could also avoid jail. "That would be the reasonable thing to do."

Ivy's mother, Ethel Braunsdorf, said she's glad Bentz is facing consequences, but she doesn't want to see the girl behind bars.

"You have to put yourself in my shoes. I don't know what to say," Braunsdorf said from her Tennessee home. "I don't want her to actually suffer because I know that she has suffered, but I also want her to understand what she's done."

Braunsdorf said the night her son died, he was out celebrating his birthday. He would have turned 43 the next day.

Braunsdorf said she was worried that night about Ivy, a longtime member of Alcoholics Anonymous, because some of his friends said they'd seen him drinking.

She thinks Ivy might have been lonely that night.

But she knows he was looking forward to spending the summer with her in Tennessee, working as a professional painter.

"Of course, he didn't make it," she said. "I sure wish he had."

Braunsdorf said she hasn't spoken to the Bentz family. She's not sure what she'd say.

But she did hear from the family's insurance company awhile back, by way of a $5,000 check for Ivy's burial.

She hasn't bought a headstone yet. She wants it to be just right.

"Something with a little blue in it," Braunsdorf said, "and I want an angel on there too."

Kim Wilmath can be reached at (813) 661-2442 or kwilmath@sptimes.com.

Tampa woman charged in fatal hit-and-run 07/23/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 23, 2010 11:44pm]
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