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Fatal-crash defendant remorseful

Shanna Jane West expresses remorse, but the prosecutor wants her held without bail.

By BRADY DENNIS and RYAN DAVIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 10, 2001


DADE CITY -- Before she buried her head in her hands and sobbed into a tissue Monday, 21-year-old Shanna Jane West pleaded with Judge Wayne Cobb to reduce her $7,500 bail.

West, charged with manslaughter in the Nov. 21, 2000, fatal car crash she caused while admittedly high on drugs, asked to address the court as the hearing began.

"I've felt nothing but remorse about this," said West, clad in a blue jail-issued jumpsuit and handcuffs. Nearby, friends and family of the woman who died in the accident looked on without expression.

"I've been waiting to get arrested for this," West said. "I knew it was coming. But I am no danger to anyone. I'd like to get out (of jail) so I can do my rehab."

Prosecutor Phil Van Allen disagreed.

"Our concern, the family's concern and the Florida Highway Patrol's concern is if she gets out, she can endanger other people," he said.

"I would argue that her actions on Nov. 21 alone . . . indicate she poses a threat to the community. Seventy-five hundred dollars is not enough. No bond is enough."

Against public defender Kirk Campbell's objections, Van Allen mentioned that West has had her license suspended 11 previous times.

He also described in detail the events of the November day that finally landed West in jail on April 3, more than four months after the accident.

He mentioned that she was charged with driving under the influence early on the morning of Nov. 21. He said West bonded out of jail hours later.

And he called FHP homicide investigator Cpl. Scott Campbell to the stand to describe the crash that happened less than 12 hours after her release, in which West drove head-on into a car carrying four people on U.S. 41 in Land O'Lakes.

Barbara Mercer, 54, of Dade City was killed in the collision. The three other people in the car with Mercer suffered minor injuries. West broke both of her arms in the crash.

As Cpl. Campbell described the violent wreckage at the crash scene, West broke into loud sobs. A bailiff brought her a tissue.

Campbell also described an interview with West, in which she told him the same story she told a Times reporter the day after the accident.

She said the night of the accident, she was high on GHB, a drug that causes euphoria as well as sedation.

"She told me the last four or five miles, she didn't remember what happened; she felt she blacked out," Campbell said.

West's defense attorney argued that he should have more time to prepare a rebuttal to the state's request for a higher bond. Judge Cobb agreed and moved a continuation of the hearing to Wednesday afternoon.

Cobb ordered West held in custody at least until then.

Van Allen said he will seek to have West held without bond until trial. And he made no secret that the state plans to increase West's charge from manslaughter by culpable negligence to DUI manslaughter when blood tests from a private laboratory are finished.

Blood tests were sent after the accident to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, but that agency can't test for GHB, Cpl. Campbell said.

Meanwhile, Monday's hearing was the first time Mercer's grieving family has seen West in person. Her family and friends filled two rows in an otherwise empty courtroom.

Her parents sat directly behind West, less than six feet away. A row back, Mercer's widower and two sons looked on. They all looked on stoically throughout the hearing.

"I felt sorry for her," Mercer's husband, Lindy, said later. "I was looking at a wasted life, and I felt sad. She took our life, and now she has no life. And for what? A quick high?"

Lindy Mercer said his family has forgiven West, though they want her to serve jail time and get rehabilitation.

Said Mercer: "She's obviously a beautiful woman, I just hate to see such a wasted life. But we have to put closure to this."

- Staff writer Brady Dennis covers police news in east Pasco. He can be reached in Dade City at (352) 521-5757, ext. 23. His e-mail is dennis@sptimes.com.

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