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'I pray for you every day,' mother tells a driver

She forgives the driver responsible for the crash that killed her 19-year-old daughter.

By JOHN FRANK
Published November 4, 2006


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INVERNESS - The sound of Cheri Ann Saccoman's heavy handcuffs clanking and scraping on the courtroom table eventually gave way to sniffles, then tears and finally sobs as she signed away the next 12 and 1/2 years of her life.

The emotional start foreshadowed a gut-wrenching hearing Thursday as two families told of how their lives were forever changed by a fatal car accident one summer night.

Saccoman, then 18, and friend Keidre Winborne, 19, were drinking at Saccoman's home the night of July 27, 2005, when they received a phone call just before 1 a.m. and went to Winborne's home in Citrus Hills.

Investigators said Saccoman was driving a 2000 Chrysler coupe east on Dunnellon Road when she lost control around a curve.

The car spun off the road and struck a utility pole. Her blood-alcohol level was .134, prosecutors said.

Neither was wearing a seat belt, and Winborne was thrown from the vehicle. She died at the scene.

In the courtroom Thursday, Saccoman, now 19, pleaded no contest to manslaughter while driving under the influence, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

As part of a plea deal, she got a 121/2-year sentence.

At the time of the accident, Saccoman was on probation for four felony drug charges from a 2003 case.

Altogether, she could have faced 45 years in prison, Circuit Judge Ric Howard told her.

Keidre's mother, Willetha Winborne, spoke first after Howard accepted the plea, telling Saccoman that the family doesn't hate her.

"You and Keidre both made two huge mistakes," she said, tears streaming down her face. "We've lost Keidre, and your family is losing you."

"You were given a second chance at life, and we hope you use this time to put your life together. Just please use this time to get your life together."

Winborne went on to talk about how the wreck affected her son, Jay, a standout basketball player at Crystal River High School. "I miss my family, and I want to say that I pray for you every day," she said.

"I pray for you too," Saccoman replied.

When it was Saccoman's turn, she had trouble turning around to face the Winbornes.

"I want to say that I'm sorry," she said, crying. "I know that because of my decisions I've torn apart two families.

"I liked Keidra like a sister, and I'll miss her every day of my life. I'm sorry I have put all of you through this, and hopefully something good can come of this situation."

The only reason she had a driver's license the night of the accident was the mercy Howard showed Saccoman during the 2003 drug case. At a 2004 hearing, he withheld adjudication, giving her three years' drug offender probation so she wouldn't lose her license as a convicted felon at the age of 16.

Howard had told Saccoman he wanted her to reform. In addition to probation, he told her to write a letter of apology to her grandparents and ordered her to visit the morgue in Leesburg.

"I was hoping to impress upon you that those people aren't coming back into this world," he told her Thursday. Howard said Saccoman's failure to live up to his expectations wouldn't stop him from showing mercy again, though.

The history between judge and defendant left Howard emotionally connected to the case. "Such a terrible loss," he said. "Such a terrible loss."

Howard told Saccoman the only reason she isn't going to prison longer is the charity of the Winborne family.

"You deserve every day of this sentence," he said. "Twelve years from now they will still be visiting a rock ... touching only a rock."

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or 860-7312.

[Last modified November 4, 2006, 07:47:36]


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