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    Driver in fatal crash sentenced to 36 years

    The widow of the victim is happy the case is finished, but she regrets she didn't get a chance to speak in court.

    By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 22, 2001


    LARGO -- Come whatever hardship, Rosanne Pollak didn't miss a single hearing in the case against Terranton Hunt, from arraignment to guilty plea.

    Hunt pleaded guilty to charges that he ran a red light while fleeing police, striking a car driven by Pollak's husband, Paul Pollak, a popular St. Petersburg High School teacher killed in the crash.

    On Wednesday, Hunt was in court one final time. A judge resentenced him to 36 years in prison after an appeals court threw out a sentence that was a decade longer.

    However, for the first time since Hunt was charged in 1998, one person was missing in the courtroom:

    The victim's widow, Rosanne Pollak. "He got to say something to the judge," Mrs. Pollak said later. "It would have been nice if the victim's family got the chance, too."

    In a bizarre finish to this tragic case, a victim advocate mistakenly led Mrs. Pollak and a dozen family and supporters to the wrong courtroom.

    Mrs. Pollak and her 14-year-old son, Martin, held sheets of paper with the words they never got a chance to read to Pinellas Circuit Judge Lauren Laughlin.

    In the end, a prosecutor said the mistake probably didn't make a difference. The judge showed Hunt little leniency. He faced a maximum of 40 years in prison.

    Hunt said he was remorseful and wanted to get out of prison immediately to get on with his education and eventually go to trade school.

    "Since I've been in custody, I've learned a lot," said Hunt, who lived in a Tampa housing project and learned to read and write in jail. "I'm asking the court for mercy . . . and to have a second chance at life."

    But Laughlin agreed with prosecutor Rob Dittmer, who told the judge that Hunt was no more deserving of leniency now than he was in 1999, when she first sentenced him to 46 years.

    On Oct. 17, 1998, a Pinellas sheriff's deputy tried to stop Hunt after noticing he was driving erratically. But Hunt bolted.

    He blew through a red light at 38th Avenue N and 34th Street in St. Petersburg, slamming into a 1994 Nissan Sentra driven by Pollak, 46, a witty and popular American government and history teacher. Hunt, then 24, ran from the wreck and fought with police when they caught up with him and tried to arrest him.

    In Hunt's wrecked car, police said they found 38 rocks of crack cocaine.

    Hunt pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide/leaving the scene of an accident causing death; causing a death while driving on a suspended license; leaving the scene of a crash involving injury; fleeing and eluding; resisting arrest; and cocaine possession.

    The 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected his convictions for causing a death while driving on a suspended license and leaving the scene of a crash involving injury. That second charge related to an injury caused to the female passenger of Hunt's car.

    The appeals court said the charges it rejected were essentially duplicated by other charges.

    Mrs. Pollak said she is happy the case is finished but disappointed 10 years are lopped off Hunt's sentence.

    "We're disappointed because we thought we were already done with this," she said. "We're trying to get on with our lives."

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