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Brooksville woman guilty of DUI manslaughter

Karen Macchione, 47, right, talks to her defense attorney, Scott Smith, earlier this week during a recess in her DUI manslaughter trial at the Hernando County Courthouse. A jury found her guilty Thursday of being under the influence of methadone when her truck struck and killed construction worker Steve Thompson Jr. on Nov. 8, 2011.
Published Oct. 11, 2013

BROOKSVILLE — Karen Macchione said a ringing cell phone, not the methadone coursing through her system, caused her to barrel into a construction zone and kill a man.

A Hernando County jury decided otherwise.

The six-member Circuit Court panel took about two hours Thursday to find Macchione guilty of DUI manslaughter.

The 47-year-old Brooksville woman stared straight ahead and showed little emotion when the clerk announced the verdict. A few moments later, she removed her gold jewelry piece by piece before a bailiff clicked silver cuffs around her wrists and led her away.

Macchione faces up to 15 years in prison. Sentencing is set for Nov. 26.

Macchione was heading west on Spring Hill Drive near the Suncoast Parkway just before 1 p.m. on Nov. 8, 2011, when her Dodge Ram pickup veered into a closed lane where workers were painting lane markers. The truck hit at least two orange construction barrels and hurled 28-year-old Steve Thompson Jr. into the eastbound lanes. The Dade City man died a short time later.

During close arguments Thursday morning, Assistant State Attorney Bill Catto said evidence presented during two full days of testimony proved that Macchione was impaired by methadone at the time of the crash.

Florida Highway Patrol troopers who responded testified that Macchione's speech was slurred and she seemed to be having trouble staying awake. Jurors heard recordings of two interviews conducted at the scene. In the second interview, recorded two hours after the crash, patrol Cpl. David Frye can be heard rousing Macchione after asking her a question.

A prescription bottle of methadone pills was found in Macchione's purse. A forensic toxicologist testified the amount of methadone in blood samples taken at the scene was on the low end of the therapeutic range, but that the type of symptoms Macchione exhibited were consistent with methadone impairment.

On the stand Wednesday, Macchione said she took three 10-milligram methadone pills the day before the crash, the last one about 11 p.m. She said she also took anxiety medication and muscle relaxers. The next morning, she said, she took only thyroid medication.

Macchione said her truck tended to pull to one side. Just before impact, she said, she looked down for a cell phone.

Catto told jurors that Macchione appeared drowsy and scattered on the stand and sounded like she did on the recorded interviews.

"This gives you a really good snapshot of what happened in this crash that killed Steven Thompson," he said.

Defense attorney Scott Smith told jurors the state failed to prove that his client was impaired by methadone.

Smith asked jurors to compare how Macchione sounded in the first interview, recorded an hour after the crash, with the second interview. He noted the litany of other prescription medications she takes to treat a host of health problems, including fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.

"If (the crash was) because of one of those issues, then she's not guilty," Smith said. "If it's because of some other medication that wasn't a controlled substance, and not because of the methadone, then she's not guilty."

In his rebuttal statement, Catto dismissed that argument.

"It's probably likely that the defendant walks around impaired on a day-to-day basis," Catto said. "That doesn't mean she's excused for taking methadone and becoming more impaired."

Thompson's family and friends cried and hugged after the verdict was read. Thompson's mother, DonAnn Gleason, said she hopes Circuit Judge Anthony Tatti gives Macchione the maximum sentence.

"There's no good that comes out of this other than she goes to prison for what she did," Gleason said. "I don't get my son back. I would trade anything for that. I feel bad she's a mother still raising four children, because I'm a mother myself. My heart bleeds for my boy."

Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1431.

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