Hit-and-run driver given 1-year term

Relatives of the badly injured pedestrian are flabbergasted but accepting of the outcome.

Published August 28, 2006

LUTZ - In a mixup, Tom Bailey's pals had left him stranded at the L.A. Hangout, a bar 3½ miles from his home. But the winter night was crystal clear, and Bailey liked long walks. He headed north.

David Reyna, who lived near Bailey, left another bar, Carrollwood's Whiskey Park North, 11 miles from home. He climbed into his silver Ford F-150 pickup and steered north.

About 3:20 a.m. Jan. 15, the two homeward journeys intersected in tragedy.

Reyna's big quad-cab pickup swerved off Debuel Road just in time to knock Bailey off his feet. The pickup's passenger-side mirror hit Bailey's head with enough force to rip the mirror from the vehicle.

Bailey, father of three, spun and landed face down - bleeding, comatose and paralyzed on his right side - in front of Maniscalco Elementary School, which his son Alex attends.

Reyna, who had dropped out of Florida State University after being arrested in 2001 on multiple drug charges, continued driving home.

Last week, the two men had their second encounter, in a Hillsborough County courtroom. Reyna arrived in handcuffs. Bailey arrived in a wheelchair.

Bailey was invited to say something. Brain damage had reduced his diction to a slow, strained monotone.

"I just couldn't believe that he would leave me on the side of the road to die," he said.

A plea agreement had been made. Reyna was sentenced to a year's incarceration, most of which he has already served. After that, he is required to pay Bailey $45,000 in restitution over four years, if he can.

The Bailey family is skeptical.

"Who's going to give him a job with his criminal record?" Bailey's wife, Sandi, asked afterward.

"The $45,000 is a joke," said Bailey's mother, Marlene Bailey, who relied on her son for much of the labor at the RV campground she owns. "Rehab will eat that up in no time. There's no justice."

"There's really nothing good about the case, quite frankly," said Nick Ficarrotta Jr., one of Reyna's attorneys. "You make the best of what you have."

'Who's this, Tom?'

The pickup's mirror was an enemy of each man. It inflicted Bailey's worst injuries, then fell to the ground as the best clue pointing toward Reyna.

After daybreak, sheriff's deputies swarmed through nearby neighborhoods, looking for a late-model SUV or truck missing the passenger-side mirror.

Deputy Chris Seaton saw Reyna's F-150 in his driveway in the Cooper's Pond neighborhood, less than a mile from Maniscalco Elementary, about 10 a.m. He called for help and covered the back door as two colleagues approached the front.

Reyna invited the deputies inside. Already, Deputy Brian Sherman sniffed marijuana.

"As soon as he opened the door, you could really smell it," Sherman said.

Deputies found pot growing in the bedroom, bagged in the freezer, in Tupperware in the refrigerator and on three cookie sheets near the stove.

Reyna told the deputies that he had been drinking and smoking marijuana the night before. He said he thought he hit a mailbox on the way home.

Flown to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, Bailey was unconscious for a month. Then he began to open his eyes slightly, Sandi Bailey said. His memory was shattered. He stared ahead blankly.

"I was so afraid to ask him who I was," Sandi Bailey said.

A nurse forced the issue. "Who's this, Tom?" she asked. "Sandi," he replied.

But even now, "he still doesn't remember the church we were married in," Sandi Bailey said.

When Tom Bailey moved his right thumb, it was an early indication that the paralysis was easing.

As Tom's insurance coverage runs thin, he now is in his final month at the Florida Institute for Neurological Rehabilitation in Wauchula, 80 miles southeast of Lutz. He is learning to walk without holding a walker.

When he visits home, he tries to help wash dishes.

"He's just pretty much having to learn everything all over again," Sandi said.

Weighing Reyna

The Baileys think Reyna is a lucky man.

"We were flabbergasted at the sentence," said Peggy Kaspar of Lutz, Sandi's mother.

"Regrettably, we had some legal hurdles in this case, which included no witnesses," said Mark Cox, executive assistant to State Attorney Mark Ober. "We were unable to prove the exact point of the collision and were unable to prove that it occurred in a reckless manner."

Consequently, Reyna was not charged with hurting Bailey, or with any driving infraction. He pleaded guilty to the charges of leaving the scene of an accident with injury and possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.

Ficarrotta said the legal maximums under the guilty plea could have totaled 11 years. But the sentencing formulas placed his client just below the point at which Circuit Judge Wayne Timmerman would have been required to dole out prison time, leaving the judge with discretion.

Also, Ficarrotta said, Florida's leaving-the-scene law doesn't let a judge impose restitution. The prosecutor raised the topic, and Reyna volunteered, Ficarrotta said. Timmerman ordered Reyna to pay at least $700 a month and the $45,000 within four years.

But restitution is rarely certain. Failure to pay is enforceable by jail only if the criminal had the ability to pay and chose not to, Ficarrotta said.

Meanwhile, authorities in Tallahassee have charged Reyna with violating his probation on his drug charges there. Ficarrotta said the maximum sentence under those charges is 20 years.

The Baileys have mixed feelings about whether Reyna should spend his future behind bars or out earning money. They could use the restitution because of Tom Bailey's medical expenses. They are considering suing Reyna.

But they think he's dangerous. After leaving FSU, Reyna had a run of traffic arrests in Tampa, including a driving under the influence charge that was reduced to reckless driving.

"They keep letting him out," Sandi Bailey said. "One day, he's going to kill someone."

"He felt horrible about Mr. Bailey," said William Welter, Reyna's other attorney. "He has prayed for him every day."

Bill Coats can be reached at coats@sptimes.com or 813 269-5309.