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Driver in fatal DUI crash sentenced to 30 years

Today would have been Ines and John Picinich's 49th wedding anniversary.

"We always celebrated with a big party," Mrs. Picinich said Friday, "but not anymore."

On April 4, 1999, Peter Patrick Claps slammed his pickup truck into John Picinich on the shoulder of U.S. 19 in Hudson. The 69-year-old was getting a jack from his trunk to fix a flat tire. He died instantly.

Claps was legally drunk. He was driving 73 mph and investigators found no skid marks. Law enforcement dogs tracked down Claps, who had fled from the crash.

On Friday, Claps received the maximum prison term allowed for his crimes: 30 years.

"There's nothing that will bring him back, but justice was done," Mrs. Picinich said after the sentencing hearing. She calls her husband her "Nino."

During his trial in January, Claps made a stunning accusation. He said somebody else was driving his truck when the crash happened. A jury didn't believe it and convicted him.

On Friday, he repeated the accusation.

"I would still like to say I was not the driver of the vehicle," said Claps, 35. "I'm sorry this happened."

Prosecutor Tom Stathopoulus blasted Claps for blaming someone else. Before sentencing, Circuit Judge William Webb cited Claps' confessions to a Florida Highway Patrol trooper, a nurse and an emergency room doctor. He also noted Claps' previous record, which includes two previous DUI arrests.

"He's habitually placed people in our county, in these streets, in danger," Webb said.

Claps showed no emotion as the judge read the sentence. Claps also sat less than 10 feet from Mrs. Picinich and her daughter Cynthia Picinich Kelly as they read statements. Again, he showed no emotion.

Kelly broke down before she finished one sentence of her one-page statement. A victim's advocate read it for her. She told Claps that her dad missed her wedding. He will miss the birth of the child she is expecting. And they will all miss what would have come today.

"Our home would have been filled with family and friends celebrating this wonderful day," Kelly wrote. "Instead we will be remembering what a great man my dad was and how lucky we are to have had him as part of our lives.

"He was my mentor and my hero, and without him here it seems almost impossible to go on."

_ Ryan Davis is the police reporter in Pasco County. He can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6245, or toll-free at 800-333-7505, ext. 6245. His e-mail address is rdavissptimes.com.

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