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Drunken driver sobs when faced by survivor

Daniel Bedal remained impassive throughout his three-day trial. Even after a jury found him guilty of all charges, his face betrayed no emotion.

But when Robert Still, the brother of the man Bedal was convicted of killing in a drunken car wreck, took the stand before Circuit Judge Ric A. Howard imposed a sentence, Bedal broke down.

"I'm so sorry for what happened, Mr. Still," Bedal sobbed. "I am very sorry. I can't bring your brother back. I think about this every night."

Robert Still, 38, who was injured in the Aug. 3 wreck, told Bedal he needed to straighten out his life and ask God for forgiveness. Still was allowed to testify under a Florida law that permits family members of victims to make a statement before a defendant is sentenced.

"When you leave this earth you will face the ultimate judge," Still said. "If you think this judge was bad, wait until then."

After nearly two full days of testimony, it took jurors less than 30 minutes to find Bedal, 47, of Miami guilty of one count each of driving under the influence-manslaughter, DUI causing serious bodily injury, DUI causing personal injury and driving with a suspended license.

Because Bedal has an extensive criminal record that stretches back to 1972 and includes a prior DUI conviction, he was not entitled to a presentencing investigation, where lawyers research aggravating and mitigating factors before a judge issues a sentence.

Howard had a few harsh words himself for Bedal, whose blood-alcohol level was found to be 0.35 _ more than four times the level at which a driver in Florida is considered impaired.

"You need to get right with God while you're still on this side of the vale of tears because when you get to the other side, it will be too late," Howard said. "You were drunk enough for you and three of your best friends that evening."

Sniffling, Bedal offered no explanation.

"I'm sorry, your honor," he said.

"You should be," Howard replied.

With that, the judge sentenced Bedal to 15 years in prison for manslaughter and five years for the DUI-serious bodily injury. The sentences will be served consecutively. Bedal was sentenced to time already served in the Citrus County jail on the two remaining charges.

According to court testimony, Bedal was driving in the wrong lane of State Road 44 when he crashed head-on into the Oldsmobile Sierra carrying Robert Still, his brother, John Still, and John Still's 14-year-old son, Michael.

John Still died at the scene of the crash, just outside Inverness city limits. Michael Still was flown to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa with a fractured pelvis. Robert Still was taken to Citrus Memorial Hospital with a broken rib and minor cuts and bruises.

Several witnesses testified that Bedal smelled strongly of alcohol and that a half-empty case of Busch beer was found in his Ford Escort.

One witness, Christine Wilkens, said Bedal asked her to remove the beer from his car. She refused.

Assistant State Attorney Richard Buxman, who prosecuted the case against Bedal, said he thought justice was served with the 20-year sentence.

"In light of Mr. Bedal's criminal history and the amount of alcohol in his system, I think it was appropriate," he said.

Assistant Public Defender Colleen Kasperek, Bedal's attorney, plans to appeal.

"I know Mr. Bedal is very remorseful," she said.

_ Reporter Carrie Johnson can be reached at 860-7309 or cjohnsonsptimes.com.

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