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Trucker pleads no contest in 1998 crash that killed 3

The man faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

Jorge L. Rosario admitted he hadn't slept for 32 hours when the semitrailer truck he was driving crushed a van and a sport utility vehicle at an intersection, killing three men.

On Thursday, about 2{ years after the crash on U.S. 27, Rosario pleaded no contest to three charges of vehicular homicide.

Rosario, 44, of Orlando, could be sent to prison for up to 15 years or receive no jail time when Circuit Judge Randall McDonald sentences him in June, under the terms of a plea agreement with the State Attorney's Office. If he had been convicted in a trial, he would have faced up to 27 years in prison.

"It's a lot of risk to leave in the hands of a jury," said Rosario's attorney, Eric H. Barker of Orlando. "Some would find that outrageous that someone would drive a truck after not sleeping for 32 hours. Others would say, and obviously it's our contention, this happens all the time."

Firefighters, doctors and others routinely work for long stretches, Barker said.

Rosario, driving on U.S. 27 on Sept. 23, 1998, failed to stop for traffic that had slowed at a signal, Florida Highway Patrol officials have said. The van and SUV were crushed between Rosario's vehicle and another semitrailer truck.

Mark Leek, 43, a tourist from Harwick, England; Pablo Jaramillo, 44, of Haines City; and Geraldo Perez-Guerrero, 25, also of Haines City were killed in the crash. Three other people were injured.

The families of the three men have settled lawsuits totaling more than $10-million against Rosario, Whirlpool Corp., GPC Driving Inc. and KENCO Logistic Services.

GPC is the temporary staffing service that hired Rosario to deliver a load of Whirlpool products. KENCO also was involved in distributing the Whirlpool products.

Police said the cause of the accident was driver fatigue, but Rosario was not charged with vehicular homicide until after he testified in a civil deposition that he had not slept for 32 hours before the accident.

Barker asked the judge to dismiss the charges Thursday, arguing that Rosario's actions "did not rise to the level of reckless driving," a misdemeanor that indicates fault and is required for a vehicular homicide charge.

Assistant State Attorney Frank Talbot said, however, that Rosario made the decision to drive and therefore was responsible, even if his employers also were at fault for expecting him to work a long shift.

After McDonald refused to dismiss the charges, Rosario went ahead with the plea agreement.

Rosario and his wife declined to comment after the plea, but Barker said Rosario feels tremendous remorse for the accident.

"This has bothered him since day one," Barker said. "It's hard to live with, on different fronts, the fact that there were three deaths as a result of this accident."