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Tampa woman's apology for 2004 DUI death rings hollow after second DUI charge

Deanna Cain, 15, of Tampa was killed in 2004 while riding in a car driven by Tiffany Graham, who was 19 at the time.

Special to the Times

Deanna Cain, 15, of Tampa was killed in 2004 while riding in a car driven by Tiffany Graham, who was 19 at the time.

TAMPA — Before going to jail for killing her friend in a drunken driving crash, Tiffany Marie Graham told the dead girl's family she was sorry.

That apology has often rung hollow, but never more so than when the family learned Graham — banned from drinking or driving while on probation — was arrested outside a bar Sunday on a driving under the influence charge.

"She never did take it seriously," said Karen Cain, 51. "That's the whole problem."

Cain's 15-year-old daughter Deanna, who loved to write poems and roller-skate, died in May 2004 after being thrown from Graham's car. Tampa police said Graham, then 19, turned in front of another vehicle that then struck the passenger side where Deanna sat.

They said Graham was intoxicated, registering blood-alcohol levels of 0.085 and 0.088. Under state law, a person is presumed impaired at 0.08.

In 2006, Graham pleaded no contest to DUI charges connected to Deanna's death and the injuries of another teen riding in the backseat. The Cains weren't interested in Graham receiving the maximum 15 years in prison, but hoped she would learn a lesson from their grief.

"They wanted her to take responsibility, have accountability, do some time and move on in a positive direction," recalls Becky Gage, a Mothers Against Drunk Driving victims' advocate who accompanied the Cains through the legal process.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Debra Behnke sentenced Graham as a youthful offender. Her punishment included one year in jail, six years of probation and 200 hours of community service.

Karen Cain worried it wasn't enough.

"I have been so scared to death that she's going to kill somebody else," she said. "I knew that Tiffany had a problem. I knew that 364 days in jail wasn't going to help."

Graham, now 25, completed court-ordered drug and alcohol treatment in jail. Records show she also attended DUI driving school and finished her community service hours.

In March, the Tampa woman committed her first violation of probation.

According to police and probation reports, she stuffed health and beauty items from a Sweetbay Supermarket into her purse. She pleaded no contest to a petty theft charge and had to pay court costs and a fine.

On Sunday, according to police, things got more serious.

Just before 8 p.m., Graham sped into the Caddy's on the Beach bar parking lot, side-swiped a parked vehicle, then walked to the beach, witnesses told Treasure Island police. A witness brought her back to the scene.

Graham admitted driving a 2005 Dodge Magnum but denied hitting anything. She appeared impaired, police said.

A records check revealed she was on probation for DUI manslaughter. She was not supposed to consume any alcohol, and her driver's license was revoked.

A portable breath test measured Graham's blood-alcohol level at 0.226 during the investigation into whether she violated her probation, reports state. During a subsequent investigation to determine if she had been driving drunk, Graham failed field sobriety tests and refused a blood-alcohol test.

She was booked into the Pinellas County Jail on charges of violating probation for DUI manslaughter, driving under the influence, driving with a revoked license and leaving the scene of a crash with property damage.

A woman claiming to be "Tiffany" answered the phone at Graham's home Monday night, then hung up on a reporter.

However, jail records indicated Graham was still in custody.

Lawyer Robin Fuson, who previously represented Graham and has talked to her family about her arrest, had no comments Monday.

Graham's MySpace page includes a photo of one of those signs on the side of the road that mark where someone was killed.

Drive Safely

In Memory

Deanna Nichole Cain

Gage, the MADD advocate, said Graham's actions send a different message.

"She was given a huge break, and she didn't take advantage of it," Gage said. "To me, that is just a huge slap in the face to the victim's family."

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

Tampa woman's apology for 2004 DUI death rings hollow after second DUI charge 06/22/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 22, 2010 11:23am]
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