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Driver charged in three deaths

Prosecutors have charged an employee of a Gainesville state institution with vehicular homicide in the deaths of three disabled adults killed last month after they were ejected from a van that flipped at high speed.

Rachuel Louise Sercey, 38, was under the influence of alcohol and drugs when the van she was driving April 19 flipped several times, according to a complaint filed Thursday by the Florida Highway Patrol. Three developmentally disabled residents of the Tacachale institution were killed in the wreck.

"Workers at that institution have a very special responsibility in caring for people who cannot care for themselves," said Rod Smith, the state attorney for the judicial circuit that includes Gainesville. "This office has communicated with the victims' families, and they are insistent that there should be a full investigation forthcoming."

Included in that investigation, Smith said, will be questions over where Sercey and another Tacachale employee took the seven disabled women the day of the crash. Based upon Sercey's statements, the state Department of Children and Families said the women went on an outing to Ginny Springs, a state park on the Sante Fe River north of Gainesville.

"We were unable to confirm that they went to Ginny Springs that day," Smith said Friday. "It appears they did not."

What investigators do know, Smith said, is that Sercey drove the van for more than 400 feet on a flat tire at speeds greater than 70 mph. Although Sercey's blood alcohol level _ which was .06, according to the Highway Patrol's report _ was insufficient for a charge of driving under the influence, it was enough to justify a charge of vehicular homicide.

Prosecutors are likely to upgrade the charges after the investigation is complete, Smith said. One of the charges being considered, Smith said, is manslaughter of the disabled, a charge that carries enhanced penalties in Florida.

Meanwhile, Sercey's bosses at the Department of Children and Families are looking into expediting the disciplinary process against her. "We have to review the details," said Tom Barnes, an agency spokesman in Gainesville. "She is entitled to due process."

But, Barnes added, the agency is considering terminating Sercey. "What could possibly be more serious than an employee with the immediate responsibility for the well-being of residents performing criminal behavior resulting in three deaths?" Barnes said.

Meanwhile, the agency is about to release a report on 79-year-old William Devers, who died after being left nearly 15 minutes in a scalding whirlpool in the early morning of April 4.

An investigation into the incident shows Devers died April 20 of "'deep burns" sustained after he was left in 118- to 130-degree water for a prolonged period, Barnes said.