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A long wait for justice leaves woman empty

Lisa Leatherwood is dismayed at the sentence of the man who caused a wreck that killed her sister and nephew.

By DONG-PHUONG NGUYEN
Published February 16, 2005


TAMPA - Lisa Leatherwood waited 31/2 years to see the man punished. She wanted justice for her sister and her nephew, who were killed when the man ran a red light and slammed into them.

On Tuesday, the moment came.

Michael Hollash, 28, stood before judge Anthony Black and pleaded guilty to two counts of vehicular homicide in the deaths of 51-year-old Jane Mark and her 14-year-old son, Britten Shores.

He listened as Black read the terms of his sentence, reached in an agreement between both sides. Two of his relatives rolled rosary beads between their fingers.

When it was all over, Leatherwood felt empty. Empty because her sister and nephew are still buried. Empty because she felt the punishment was not harsh enough.

Hollash was sentenced to two years of community control, with the first year in the Hillsborough County Jail's work release program, followed by 13 years of probation.

He also loses his driver's license for at least three years. He must pay restitution and speak to others about reckless driving.

"I leave here still saddened," Leatherwood said outside the Hillsborough County Courthouse. "He walks away with a slap on the hand."

For Hollash, a youthful-looking bespectacled man who wore a navy blue blazer and khaki slacks, the plea was the safe route, his lawyer said.

A sloppy crash scene investigation by the Sheriff's Office contributed to the delay in the case. It also made defending him before a jury difficult, said lawyer Rick Escobar.

Escobar contends that Hollash suffered from dehydration that August day in 2001. He had spent his workday at a construction site where he worked for a plumbing company. The temperature that day was about 90 degrees in a shaded area, Escobar said, and an investigator noted Hollash had dry mouth, yet no one bothered to conduct any tests. They also did not draw blood from Hollash until seven hours after the crash. No drugs or alcohol were found in his system, Escobar said.

It was just one oversight among many, Escobar said.

Without evidence to back up their defense, Hollash would have taken a big risk in going to trial. He would have faced at least 18 years in prison.

"This case is about an investigation ... that has hurt Michael Hollash as much as it hurt the family of the deceased," Escobar said. "Had they done the proper investigation at the scene, Michael Hollash would never have been charged with vehicular homicide."

Mark's family, however, doesn't believe Hollash suffered from dehydration.

They mentioned Hollash's driving history, which includes at least nine traffic violations.

The day of the crash, Hollash ran a red light at John Moore Road and Bloomingdale Avenue, and drove his 1998 Mitsubishi Mirage east on Bloomingdale when he crossed into the westbound lane going the wrong way.

He hit Jane Mark's Trans Am, killing her son instantly. Mark never regained consciousness.

Mark's family and friends expressed dismay that Hollash did not apologize in court.

Hollash did not speak because a civil suit by Mark's daughter is pending, Escobar said.

Mark's family wanted the judge to hand down a stiffer sentence and order that Hollash not be allowed to drive for at least the duration of his probation.

"I miss the soft kisses from my sister, Britt's hugs," Leatherwood told the judge. "He took that from our family. He needs to learn his lesson. Have him experience hardships, feel some punishment for this."

Black had no alternative than to stick to the terms of the plea agreement, leaving Leatherwood feeling saddened.

"I don't feel we have justice," she said. "My heart will always be empty."

[Last modified February 16, 2005, 01:20:12]


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