Victim's family scolds driver

"I'm not solely and totally guilty," he says of the Tampa crash that killed a Road Ranger last year.

Published May 8, 2007

TAMPA - Benjamin J. Green already knew his fate when he arrived in court Monday. He had pleaded guilty to driving drunk and killing a Road Ranger on Interstate 275 last year and a plea agreement called for him to receive 11 1/2 years in prison.

Green, 32, a father of six and former truck driver, took the heat from victim Donald Bradshaw's family. They scolded him, and he did not look away.

"This is the man you killed right here, " said Donald Bradshaw Jr., thrusting a picture of his father high, fresh anger in his voice.

"I have no sympathy for you, " said daughter-in-law Mary Bartholf.

But when it came time for the defendant to speak, he clearly did not accept the penalty dealt to him.

"I am a victim of circumstance, " he said.

Officials said Green had a 0.146 percent blood-alcohol level when he passed stopped cars, barrelled through flares and traffic cones and hit Bradshaw, who was shutting down southbound traffic near the Howard-Armenia exit. Florida law presumes a driver is impaired at 0.08 percent. Prosecutors charged Green with driving under the influence manslaughter.

Reading from a letter to Bradshaw's family, Green tried to deflect blame.

He said he was headed to his St. Petersburg home in the early hours of March 5, 2006, after having "a few" drinks with friends.

"I wasn't speeding, " he said. "I wasn't recklessly driving."

A truck in front of him merged into another lane, he said. He didn't see Bradshaw, a 66-year-old Coast Guard veteran who lived in St. Petersburg and came out of retirement to return to the business of helping others.

Road Rangers patrol I-275, Interstate 4 and other major roads in the area as part of a free highway assistance program funded by the Florida Transportation Department, which contracts with Anchor Towing. Bradshaw was so dedicated to the patrol that he used his own money to buy fellow Road Rangers matching hats.

Green said he pulled over after the crash to check on Bradshaw, praying that he would be okay. Bradshaw died at the scene.

Bradshaw wouldn't have been there, Green said, if not for a group of kids who had been drinking and speeding before they flipped their car. Those kids played Russian roulette with their lives and everyone else's on the road yet walked away without punishment, he complained.

"I'm not saying I'm totally innocent, " Green said. "But I'm not solely and totally guilty."

The excuses didn't sit well with Bradshaw's family.

"That's crap, " Donald Bradshaw Jr. whispered to his sister-in-law in the audience.

Circuit Judge Emmett Battles wasn't moved either. He sentenced Green to the negotiated prison time, which will be followed by two years of community control and three years of probation. Green, sentenced as a habitual felony offender because of past crimes, could have received 15 years in prison.

"The only unfair thing, " the judge said, "is what happened to Donald Bradshaw. This was no accident."

Battles permanently revoked Green's driver's license. He ordered the man to stay away from bars and to perform 100 hours of community service.

Donald Bradshaw Jr., 43, wished the judge would have ordered those hours to be served on local highways.

He wanted Green to experience the danger firsthand.

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