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The worker drove the wrong way on U.S. 19, causing an accident that killed a man.

Agustin Palma Trejo was 18 then, an illegal immigrant supporting his family in Mexico through construction work.

Donald Cochran was 40 years older, a former Marine in love with classic cars, on his way to Biff Burger.

Both men lived in Largo, worked to support their families and were called caring members of the community.

"What's interesting about these two individuals," said Circuit Judge Thane Covert, "they would have been pretty good friends."

But their only meeting, after the sun set on April 21, 2007, ended in tragedy. Cochran's Ford truck smashed into a trackhoe driven the wrong way on U.S. 19 by Palma Trejo. Cochran died at the scene. Palma Trejo was charged with manslaughter.

Palma Trejo, after giving an open plea last month, was sentenced Friday to six years in jail. Considering he must serve 85 percent of his sentence, and that he has been behind bars since his arrest, he won't leave the jail until after his 23rd birthday. He will be deported to Mexico after his release.

Palma Trejo and his sister, Lilliana, moved to the United States four months before the accident, said Palma Trejo's pro bono attorney, Bryant Camareno. Their father had died from cancer, and Palma Trejo, as the oldest son and the family's only high school graduate, tried to fill in for the loss of income.

He began working for Wave Communications Technologies, a St. Petersburg telecommunications firm. On the day of the crash, Assistant State Attorney Scott Rosenwasser said, Palma Trejo and other workers were pulling up pipeline in the grassy shoulder off U.S. 19 and 115th Avenue.

A supervisor told Palma Trejo to move the trackhoe, a large excavator the company had used to shovel dirt, down the road. When Palma Trejo edged into the roadway, Cochran's truck swerved, clipped the trackhoe's bucket and flipped. The truck came to rest on its roof 300 feet down the road.

Camareno and Rosenwasser disagreed on Palma Trejo's training with the machinery, Cochran's speed and whether the trackhoe's lights were on. Both agreed the trackhoe had been moving at 4 mph and that Palma Trejo's negligence had caused the accident.

Camareno, Palma Trejo and Lilliana pleaded to the judge for restraint, describing Palma Trejo as a young man devastated at the loss he had caused.

"I only want to ask the family for forgiveness," Palma Trejo said through a court translator. "I know what it is like to lose a father."

Cochran's family, however, spoke of the emotional and financial toll Cochran's death had taken on their family, a loss that hadn't let up in the years since the accident. Rosenwasser asked the judge for the maximum punishment - nine years in jail.

"Unfortunately, me and my family don't have any sympathy for Mr. Palma Trejo," said Cochran's stepson, Ronald D. Wilson, through tears. "Thanks to Mr. Palma Trejo, our lives have been turned around and thrown inside out."

The judge said he based his ruling on Palma Trejo's status as a "youthful offender," and that Palma Trejo, though in the country illegally, was doing his best to maintain an honest career. The Cochrans said after the sentencing they felt Palma Trejo was let off easy.

"As an illegal immigrant, he shouldn't have even been here," said Cochran's widow, Ruth Cochran. "Anybody in their right mind would know you don't pull out like that."

Drew Harwell can be reached at (727) 445-4170 or