Appeal in Bayshore case raises questions of culpability, judicial discretion

A three-judge panel will hear arguments next year about whether Cameron Herrin’s 24-year sentence can stand.
Cameron Herrin listens to testimony during his sentencing hearing in April in Tampa.
Cameron Herrin listens to testimony during his sentencing hearing in April in Tampa. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Dec. 28, 2021

TAMPA — Did a Tampa judge abuse his discretion when he sentenced Cameron Herrin to 24 years in prison for causing a traffic crash that killed a mother and daughter on Bayshore Boulevard? Should Herrin’s sentence have been closer to six years, the penalty his friend and fellow driver John Barrineau received for his role in the same fatal crash?

Those questions loom in an appeal that now sits before a three-judge panel who in the coming year will consider whether there is a legal basis for a trial court to redo Herrin’s sentence.

Herrin’s attorney, John Fitzgibbons, appealed shortly after Hillsborough Circuit Judge Christopher Nash sentenced Herrin in April. The case completed the full briefing process earlier this month, with the defense and the state having submitted written arguments to the 2nd District Court of Appeal.

“Certainly Cameron deserves to be punished for his role in this horrible case,” Fitzgibbons wrote in an initial brief. “But what purpose is served by imprisoning this young man for the next twenty-plus years of his life?”

In the state’s response, Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Hurley argues that the judge did not abuse his discretion, having taken into consideration the totality of the circumstances, including the egregiousness of Herrin’s actions, and the harm he caused. He also reiterated what a prosecutor argued at Herrin’s sentencing hearing: that he and Barrineau were not equally culpable.

In particular, the state noted evidence showed Herrin’s car struck Jessica Reisinger-Raubenolt as she pushed her daughter, Lillia, in a stroller. There was also evidence of prior speeding incidents in Herrin’s Ford Mustang, occurring days before the fatal collision.

It is a case that continues to generate public interest, and an intense online campaign driven at least in part by social media bots on the other side of the world that largely argues for more leniency for Herrin. It was one of several fatal crashes that have occurred in recent years along the popular Tampa boulevard. Bayshore is widely recognizable for its tree-lined, grassy median, high-rise condo towers, and the 4-mile, continuous sidewalk where walkers, joggers, bicyclists and skaters move along the Hillsborough Bay waterfront.

The three-judge panel was set to hear oral arguments by Zoom videoconference in February, but the date was postponed last week after the defense requested that arguments be presented in person. A new date has yet to be scheduled.

Related: Driver gets 24 years in prison for Bayshore crash that killed mother, daughter

The crash occurred a little before noon on May 23, 2018. Herrin, then 18, had just graduated from Tampa Catholic High School and was driving the Mustang, a graduation gift. His friend, John Barrineau, then 17, drove a Nissan Altima as they headed to work out at a local gym. Witnesses later described the cars as racing each other as they traveled north from Gandy Boulevard up Bayshore, moving in and out of traffic lanes as they passed slower cars.

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From left: Lillia Raubenolt, her father David Raubenolt, and mother Jessica Reisinger-Raubenolt.
From left: Lillia Raubenolt, her father David Raubenolt, and mother Jessica Reisinger-Raubenolt. [ COURTESY OF DAVID RAUBENOLT | Courtesy of David Raubenolt ]

Reisinger-Raubenolt, who was visiting family in South Tampa, had gone for a walk and was pushing her daughter in a stroller. From the Bayshore sidewalk, she stepped out to cross the road at Knights Avenue just as the two speeding cars approached.

The Mustang’s Infotainment system recorded its speed just before the collision at 102 mph. The speed limit on Bayshore at the time was 45 mph. The car had slowed to between 30 and 40 mph at the moment of impact, according to court testimony.

Herrin, 20, pleaded guilty a year ago to two counts of vehicular homicide and a charge of unlawful racing on a highway. State guidelines suggested a minimum sentence of 18-and-a-half years. Herrin’s attorney asked a judge to impose a penalty below the guidelines. Part of his argument centered on Barrineau, who also pleaded guilty and, in an agreement with prosecutors, received a six-year sentence.

Herrin’s defense asserted that the two young men were equally culpable in causing the collision, and thus should receive similar sentences.

In an emotional, daylong hearing, Judge Nash heard from witnesses who attested to Herrin’s good character, and the impact the crash had on him and his family. But there were also those who knew the mother and daughter, who described their devastating loss. Family members of the victims asked the judge to impose the maximum 30-year sentence.

Nash, while finding that there were reasons to support a lesser sentence, chose not to go below the guidelines. In brief comments before the end of the hearing, he noted the harm the crash had caused and gave Herrin 24 years — nine years for the mother’s death, and 15 years for the child’s death, to be served consecutively.

The defense brief ponders at what point punishment will have been achieved and whether there is a point at which Herrin will be unable to return to society in any meaningful way.

“Two lives were lost as a result of this tragic case,” Fitzgibbons wrote. “What is accomplished by losing a third?”