The morning she hit and killed a teenager and didn't stop, Natalie Rodriques should not have been driving.
She had traces of cocaine, marijuana and Xanax in her system on March 13, 2007. Her blood alcohol content measured 0.13 percent, above the level at which Florida law presumes a person impaired. Just two months earlier, she had picked up an arrest for driving under the influence. And she had suffered two seizures, the last of which prompted doctors to tell her not to get behind the wheel.
She did so anyway with tragic results, a decision she could not explain Monday as she pleaded guilty to DUI manslaughter. "I hate myself for my actions of that terrible night," she sobbed. "But I don't even remember any of it."
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Manuel Lopez said he believed Rodriques' claim that she didn't know she had hit someone and that she felt sorry for what she had done. But 16-year-old Irvin Eppy Soto Jr. was dead, and for that she had to pay.
The judge gave her half of the maximum sentence, 15 years in prison, then 10 years of probation. Rodriques, 23, can never again drive in Florida.
The Tampa woman severed Soto's brain stem when she drifted off W Hillsborough Avenue and hit him from behind as he walked along the road's shoulder at about 4:45 a.m., prosecutor Barbara Coleman said. Soto was walking home to Tampa from his girlfriend's house in Clearwater.
Rodriques drove nearly a mile before crashing her father's pickup into a ditch. She was trying to call AAA when authorities arrived, Coleman said. She admitted she had been at a bar.
Today, she is due back in court for a misdemeanor DUI arrest from January 2007. In that case, she had drugs, not alcohol, in her system, Coleman said.
Rodriques, a ninth-grade dropout, and her attorney, Roger Futerman, blamed drug abuse, anxiety, depression, her grandmother's death, a learning disability, a prior car accident and seizures for her struggles.
The victim's family, wearing shirts and buttons that bore his face, was unmoved.
"She broke more than laws that night," said uncle Edwin Soto. "She broke many hearts."
"How could you be so careless?" sister Margarita Soto, 15, asked.
"You," said mother Maria Soto, "have destroyed my family."
Colleen Jenkins can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3337.