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Tampa man acquitted of DUI manslaughter gets probation for DUI

Judge William Fuente, left, on Friday sentenced James Braley, right, whose car crash in 2007 led to a good Samaritan’s death, to a year of probation, with six months of it under house arrest or in a jail work release program.

KIM WILMATH | Times

Judge William Fuente, left, on Friday sentenced James Braley, right, whose car crash in 2007 led to a good Samaritan’s death, to a year of probation, with six months of it under house arrest or in a jail work release program.

TAMPA — He said he'd take it all back if he could.

The drinking, the driving, the crash and the second crash. The death of a man who stopped to help, the pain it caused his family.

Instead, James Braley will spend a year on probation, with six months of it under house arrest or in a jail work release program, a judge ruled Friday.

Braley, 39, was drunk on Oct. 28, 2007, when, authorities said, he rear-ended another car on Interstate 75. A third car crashed into the scene, killing a 29-year-old man who ran over to help.

Braley was initially charged with driving under the influence manslaughter, on the theory that his crash indirectly caused Amir Sarhaddi's death, but earlier this month a jury found Braley guilty of a lesser charge of DUI with property damage — a misdemeanor.

He could have gotten a year in jail.

At his sentencing, Braley's family and friends told Circuit Judge William Fuente that the car salesman from Massachusetts was a good man who made a bad decision. They talked about his two sons, 8-year-old Nicholas and 10-year-old Tyler, and how much Braley longs to make them proud.

"The disappointment and stress he knows he has caused his family and friends, especially his boys, will be with him forever," said Braley's ex-wife, Melissa Braley. She called him a wonderful father and a great friend.

As his ex-wife spoke, Braley choked back tears.

Seated a few rows back, Sarhaddi's family members were quiet. Becky Gage, a Mother's Against Drunk Driving victims' advocate, delivered their statements.

"I hope your conscience punishes you," Gage read from a note written by Sarhaddi's parents. "You have your life to enjoy, but that comes at the cost of someone else's."

On the night he died, Sarhaddi and his wife were on the way home from a date when they noticed a crash up ahead. Braley, whose blood-alcohol content was later measured at 0.219, had rear-ended a Jeep.

After Sarhaddi got out to help, a second driver, Jessica Paquette, crashed into the scene, killing Sarhaddi.

Paquette is now serving a five-year prison sentence for DUI manslaughter.

When it was Braley's turn to speak, he stood with his back to the judge, addressing Sarhaddi's family.

"The pain that I saw in your eyes at every hearing and at the trial has been truly heartbreaking," Braley said. "I will be forever sorry."

He told Judge Fuente he wants to educate others about the dangers of drinking and driving. When he mentioned his sons and the better example he wants to set for them, he nearly broke down in sobs.

"I truly am a remorseful and changed man," Braley said. "I now need to repair my life."

He said Fuente won't see him in court again until he returns reporting that he has met all the judge's conditions.

In addition to probation, Braley must give up his license for six months, perform 50 hours of community service, drink no alcohol, submit to breath tests and pay a $500 fine.

Braley had no prior criminal record, his lawyer noted.

"There's no doubt in my mind that Mr. Braley truly is remorseful for the pain that he caused," the judge said.

On their way out of the courthouse, Braley's family members said they thought the sentence was fair.

"He was prepared for the worst," said Braley's former father-in-law, Robert Cuppernell. "He's been punished for three years."

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

Tampa man acquitted of DUI manslaughter gets probation for DUI 11/19/10 [Last modified: Saturday, November 20, 2010 12:44am]
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