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Driver with epilepsy sentenced to nine years in prison for probation violation

TAMPA — He drove even though a doctor told him not to, and in 2002, Emilio Santacruz had a seizure on West Shore Boulevard. He crashed into a realty office and killed a woman.

He could have gone to prison for 15 years. Instead, a judge revoked Santacruz's license for 15 years and sent him home with strict instructions not to drive.

On Wednesday, the same judge sentenced Santacruz to nine years in prison for doing just that — driving.

The violation of probation was uncovered during a Tampa Bay Times investigation of drivers with epilepsy, spurred by the October crash involving Eric McNeil, which killed Nancy and Webster Farnsworth.

McNeil passed out at the wheel before hitting the Farnsworths' van, Tampa police say. He has not been charged.

Driving records indicated Santacruz was living in Miami and had a valid license, which he obtained in 2008.

Perhaps because he used the last name "Santacruz Galdo," state officials didn't notice. He even drove to a probation meeting.

Santacruz admitted Wednesday to getting the license. It was a "mistake," he said through tears, but he did it for his daughter and his wife. He needed to work.

He said he wouldn't do it again. He said he'd do anything the judge asked.

He just wanted to go home to his daughter, his wife and their 6-month-old girl.

"Please, I'm asking you to trust in me for the last time," he said in Spanish, through a translator.

But Circuit Judge Daniel Perry said he couldn't. What if Santacruz got behind the wheel again, had a seizure and killed another person, the judge asked.

"I wouldn't want to explain to someone else's family why I trusted your word," he said.

The family of Angie Talty still feels the pain.

The son and the companion of 79-year-old Talty, who died when Santacruz crashed into the realty office, spoke in court.

Jack Beloate called Talty his "soulmate." He told the judge he's afraid Santacruz could hurt more people if he drives.

Talty's son, Tom Talty, said that's the most important factor to consider. "Is he going to decide again to risk the lives of others?" Talty asked.

Though family members wanted a tougher sentence in 2004, they weren't happy about the nine-year sentence Wednesday. Talty said he feels sad for Santacruz's family.

Why didn't he take the bus to work, Talty asked. Why didn't his wife drive him?

"When you drive 4,000 pounds of steel down the road, you need to be careful," he said. "You need to take other people into consideration."

He paused, adding: "I hope he doesn't kill another person."

Judge Perry wasn't going to take that risk.

In addition to sentencing Santacruz to nine years in prison, he also permanently revoked his license.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at or (813) 226-3433.