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Man gets 30 years in death of officer

He was convicted of DUI-manslaughter in a crash that killed Pam Iorio's bodyguard.

By COLLEEN JENKINS
Published March 7, 2007


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TAMPA - Jose Luis Espinoza drew a 30-year prison sentence on Tuesday for driving drunk and killing a man who was the beloved bodyguard of Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio.

But another woman's heartbreak filled the courtroom as she spoke of the tragic loss of Tampa police Detective Juan Serrano.

"He was my best friend, my soul mate and my partner in life," said the detective's widow, Mylin Serrano. "The void in my life will never be filled."

Juan Serrano had dropped off the mayor after a Gasparilla event and was driving home Feb. 25, 2006, when Espinoza ran a red light at the Gibsonton Drive intersection off Interstate 75. Espinoza's 1996 Pontiac Grand Prix hit the 17-year Tampa police veteran's car in the driver's side door.

Serrano, 49, died at Tampa General Hospital.

Espinoza ran from the scene. Caught two hours later, he was found to have a blood alcohol content of 0.16, twice the level at which Florida law presumes a driver impaired. He had come to the United States from Mexico illegally eight months before.

Last month, a jury convicted the 36-year-old of driving under the influence-manslaughter, vehicular homicide, leaving the scene of a fatal crash and driving without a valid license.

On Tuesday, only he and his lawyer spoke on his behalf.

"I'm really sorry for what happened," he said in a low voice, his Spanish translated by an interpreter. "I want them to understand that it was an accident."

Prosecutor Kim Seace called the apology an empty one.

Circuit Judge Ronald Ficarrotta said Espinoza made more than a mistake. In addition to the prison sentence, Espinoza's driver's license is permanently revoked.

Police Chief Stephen Hogue and law enforcement colleagues attended the hearing. The mayor, up for re-election and visiting polling sites, did not attend.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at 813 226-3337 or cjenkins@sptimes.com.

[Last modified March 7, 2007, 06:29:20]


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