Sunday, February 18, 2018
Opinion

Mother fights to give imprisoned son a second chance

Thirty years ago today, Elizabeth Cadmus gave birth to her first baby at St. Peter's University Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J. She named him Richard Cadmus-Diaz, the last part after the father she would never marry.

Elizabeth allowed herself some joyful moments. Then she wrapped her baby in a blanket and walked to the cancer wing where her mother, Joan, lay terminally ill.

"Having a baby was a life-changing event,'' recalled Elizabeth, now 54. "You know, change for the better. I was happy, but then so sad.''

As she joins her son to celebrate a milestone birthday, she must endure more conflicting emotions. He sits in a wheelchair at the state penitentiary in Lake Butler, 145 miles north of her home in Holiday. The car wreck that landed him in prison also cost him the use of his arms and legs.

For all his problems, he's the lucky one. On the night of Jan. 23, 2006, Cadmus-Diaz got drunk and drove into the back of a tow truck stopped at a red light on U.S. 19 in Holiday. His alcohol level was twice the limit at which state law presumes impairment. The wreck killed his friend, Patrick Cooley, 23, who had asked him for a ride home from a party.

When it came time for a judge to decide what to do with Cadmus-Diaz, he considered a history of reckless driving and marijuana use. He heard disturbing reports that money collection jars to help with medical bills had painted Richie as a victim of a drunken driver. But the judge also weighed the medical needs of a young man with a spinal cord injury who depended on others for even the most basic needs, such as using the bathroom.

In the end, the judge gave him 10 years in prison for DUI-manslaughter but allowed him to delay reporting while receiving treatment.

At Lake Butler, Cadmus-Diaz has spent all four years in the medical facility. He'll be there until March 2017 — unless his mother succeeds in her effort to get him released early.

"Richie will never reoffend,'' she says. "He has great remorse.''

He also is committed to warning other young people about the danger of drinking and driving, says his mother, a server at Cody's Original Road House in Tarpon Springs for 10 years. She married Ronald McCallum in 1999 and has two other grown children.

She drives to Lake Butler most weekends. Recently she began a campaign to collect signatures in support of her request for a commutation of sentence. She hired Tampa lawyer Suzanne Bechard to guide her through a process she hopes leads to the Office of Executive Clemency and Gov. Rick Scott.

"I just want my son home,'' she says.

Bechard said Cadmus-Diaz has done some research and concludes his medical care in prison comes to about $82,000 a year. He will need surgery within two years to replace a pump that sends anti-spasm medicine through his body. If he were out of prison, his medical care would be picked up by Medicaid.

The Cooleys did not want to comment about the effort for Cadmus-Diaz's early release. To honor their son, they have established the Patrick Adam Cooley Foundation, helping local children with Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus. Patrick's brother, Sean, 33, has fought diabetes since he was 6.

Patrick's father, Mike Cooley, is part of the Crown Automotive Group executive management team. He spoke eloquently for his family after the accident and during the prosecution, although news reports never mentioned another tragedy his family had suffered at the hands of a drunken driver. In 1958, when Mike was 4 years old, his father worked in Sumatra for the Goodyear rubber company. He was killed when the car he was riding in crashed. The driver was drunk. Mike was one of three sons.

Mike and Mary Cooley also had three sons, Patrick the youngest. Sean works with the Department of Homeland Security. Jim, a music recording engineer, is 31.

Patrick was in his second year of college and a personal trainer when he died. He planned to get a business degree and open a gym. Friends and family say he was always smiling.

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