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5 YEARS FOR ROGUE DRIVER

Too many reckless turns behind the wheel put this armless driver behind bars.

Freedom for Michael Francis Wiley meant being behind the wheel.

Even if he never could grip the wheel.

Driving was how the Pasco County man regained the independence he lost with the childhood amputation of his arms and half his left leg. He learned to drive using stumps and knees.

But Wiley repeatedly abused that hard-won freedom, authorities say, and the law.

Now that freedom has been taken from him.

Circuit Judge William Webb sentenced the 40-year-old triple amputee to five years in prison and 15 years' probation Friday.

"But by the grace of God you could have killed or maimed a lot of people," the judge said.

The state could revoke Wiley's driving privileges for life, and his long history of substance abuse left him facing years of drug testing after his release.

His sentencing had the courthouse parking lot dotted with TV satellite dishes - a veritable media frenzy by west Pasco standards - and stories about Wiley's exploits, and arrests, have run in newspapers and Web sites around the world.

He cannot dress himself. But he can turn the ignition with his teeth, drive a stick shift, handle a cell phone - and lose his license.

Wiley has been accused of leading police cruisers on chases reaching 120 mph and once kicked an officer who did catch him.

He has been held without bail since May 9, the day after his latest in a two-decade string of drug and driving offenses. Wiley was behind the wheel once again, authorities say, eluding two police cruisers.

For his latest offenses, defense attorney John Hooker pleaded for leniency and a minimum 30-month sentence.

He cited his client's need for treatment for his many physical and mental health problems, and how his health has always deteriorated behind bars.

A psychologist's report says Wiley suffers from anxiety, panic attacks, depression and chronic pain from his amputations.

Wiley then apologized.

"I need treatment," he said. "This has been going on long enough."

"Too long," the judge said.

Wiley had faced a maximum of 40 years for charges that included driving with a suspended or revoked license, possession of a controlled substance, and fleeing and eluding.

Instead of risking trial, he threw himself at the court's mercy, pleading no contest to all charges on June 25. The judge capped his sentence at five years.

That wasn't good enough for Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis. The prosecutor asked the judge to forget the cap and give Wiley 15 years in prison and 15 years of probation.

Halkitis called New Port Richey Master Patrol Officer Keith Campbell to the stand.

Officers tried to pull Wiley over on May 8, Campbell testified. Instead, they saw him run vehicles off U.S. 19, swerve in front of two school buses and smash the 45 mph speed limit in broad daylight.

Wiley drove so dangerously that police gave up the chase.

Halkitis then went over Wiley's 24 felony convictions and 22 misdemeanor convictions in 22 years. Every time Wiley got out of jail, the prosecutor noted, he just got back behind the wheel.

"What does that indicate? It indicates to me that he is a sociopath," Halkitis said. "He cannot follow the rules of society."

A handful of Wiley's relatives said they agree, and that five years just isn't enough. His drug habits and debts have endangered them all, they said, and one day he will return to the road.

"He cannot live without driving," said Scott Richards, fiance to Wiley's daughter Felicia. "He is a dangerous person."

Hooker said he hopes that's not the case. Wiley told him he has given up driving.

"He said he's waving the white flag," the lawyer said. "Let's put it this way: He better."

Indeed, for Webb told Wiley what would happen if the amputee returned to his courtroom.

"I'm going to max you out," the judge said.

Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji @sptimes.com or (727) 869-6236.

Fast facts

Wiley's wild ride

Michael Wiley had 24 felony convictions and 22 misdemeanor convictions in 22 years, according to the state attorney's office. His driver's license was suspended or revoked at least 19 times. He has drug convictions for possessing cocaine and marijuana. Law officers also accused him of trying to kick a state trooper with his one good leg and striking his wife with his head. Earlier this week, Wiley told the Associated Press: "I don't like the idea that I'm Pasco County's most notorious driver. That's hype. I'm not public enemy No. 1. I'm just a regular guy with some handicaps."

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