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Teen pleads no contest in fatal DUI crash

Every morning James Murdock walked to breakfast at the Riviera restaurant, then walked back home. At 85 he didn't walk very fast, hobbling along with his cane.

On Dec. 27, 1995, he didn't make it home.

About 8 a.m., as Murdock was slowly crossing East Bay Drive, he saw a red Chevrolet Blazer bearing down on him. He started hopping, trying to get to the median. The Blazer hit him so hard his cane flew to the other side of the median, and his shoes landed farther down the road.

On Wednesday the driver of the Blazer, Meghan Horgan, a 19-year-old college student from Maryland, pleaded no contest to a charge of DUI-manslaughter. She had tears in her eyes.

Horgan's defense attorney, James Beach, said his client took that step knowing there is no agreement with either the judge or the prosecution about what her sentence might be. Circuit Judge Tim Peters scheduled sentencing for the certified nursing assistant for May 19.

Although Horgan has a juvenile record, this was her first adult felony. Nevertheless, Assistant State Attorney Joe Bulone said state sentencing guidelines call for Horgan to receive a minimum of 10{ years in prison to a maximum of 17{ years. Beach said he will urge the judge to be more lenient than that.

After the crash, Horgan told Largo police Officer George Edmiston she had not had anything to drink for two days. Horgan told Edmiston that "she was half-asleep while she was driving, and she was very tired," Edmiston said in pretrial testimony.

But later, while the paramedics were drawing her blood, she told another officer she had had two beers the night before, Edmiston said. Police found several empty or nearly empty Ice House, Bud Lite, Red Dog and Miller Lite beer bottles stashed in the Blazer.

One of Horgan's two passengers told Officer Michael Eaton that they had all been drinking, but Horgan had not had as much to drink as the two passengers. That's why she was driving, the passenger said.

Forty minutes after the crash, paramedics drew Horgan's blood, Assistant State Attorney Rick Buchwalter said. It showed a blood-alcohol level of at least 0.143, he said. Florida law presumes a driver to be impaired with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 or higher.

Horgan repeatedly told Edmiston she had not intended to hit Murdock, but could not avoid him.

"She stated that the pedestrian just ran northbound in front of her, and she hit the brakes and hit the pedestrian," Edmiston testified.

But Edmiston said he found no evidence she hit her brakes before the car slammed into Murdock, and witnesses said she didn't slow down before the crash.