1. Archive

Guilty verdict eases some of her guilt

Now when she rides in a car, Miqucalena Zorbas will ask the driver to only make right-hand turns.

She has learned all the right-turn routes to get anywhere from her home in Nature's Hideaway. If, and only if, there's no other option does she allow the driver, usually her boyfriend, Vito Tambasco, to cross traffic and turn left. To Zorbas, the left-hand turns are just an unnecessary risk.

Tambasco is happy to comply with her wishes. Given what has happened to her, the right turns are a small accommodation. Zorbas won't get the behind the wheel anymore.

On March 2, 2001, Zorbas was driving home from Wal-Mart on State Road 54 with four children in the car. Around 8 p.m., a Chevy Camaro Z28 heading east at speeds approaching 90 mph, lost control, crossed the median and slammed into Zorbas' Plymouth Caravelle.

Only Tabitha Brooks, now 16, Zorbas, and Nicholas Demerie, the Camaro driver, survived. Demerie's wife, Ann Marie Demerie, died in the fiery collision.

Zorbas lost her two sons, Robert, 14, and Anthony, 10, as well as family friend Deziree Pozzi, 4.

On Thursday, a jury convicted Nicholas Demerie, 56, of three counts of vehicular homicide for the death of Pozzi and the Zorbas boys, one count of reckless driving for the death of his wife, and two counts of reckless driving with injury for the injuries suffered by Brooks and Zorbas.

The crash broke more than 30 of Zorbas' bones, and lacerated her kidney and liver. It crushed both feet, snapped her thigh bone, and broke her arm. Doctors rebuilt her skeleton into a patchwork of titanium and bone.

They said she could never have children again. But despite the injuries, she gave birth to a daughter, Marisa Michaele, on Dec. 20, 2002.

In the past three years, she also has relearned the alphabet and trained her arm to write again.

But Zorbas, now 39, still can't recall anything of the crash or remember her boys being in the car.

Since the accident her life has been full of second-guessing all the small daily decisions of March 2, 2001. Even though she wasn't at fault in the crash, Zorbas said that as a mother, she can't rid herself of the guilt.

Or the questions.

Did she have to go to Wal-Mart?

Did she have to take the children with her?

It doesn't help to think that, for the victims, the collision simply was about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"This comes back to me putting them in the car," she said Thursday during the jury's three-hour deliberation. "And I didn't bring them back home."

A guilty verdict would help lift some of that burden from her shoulders, she said. It would let her know that Demerie would be forced to take some of that responsibility from her.

"That man gave me that guilt," she said. "My purpose was to be a mom and to teach and to protect and he took that from me."

For three years, she took her medications, went through therapy and rehabilitation, kept her emotions suppressed and waited for the trial.

Before the jury read the verdict, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Daniel Diskey admonished the gallery not to have any outbursts.

Zorbas said that as the clerk read the verdict, she could only concentrate on staying quiet and holding the emotion from her face.

Then the tears came.

"It had to come out," she said while leaving the courthouse. "I can go home and feel like a mother now. I don't have to deal with the court and the trials. I can feel like a Mom."