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    Probation is price of her punch

    A woman accused of slugging her daughter's cheerleading coach says she didn't do it, but she pleaded guilty to avoid going to trial.

    [Times photo: Dirk Shadd]
    John Patrick, a Pinellas County sheriff's deputy, leaves the courtroom with his wife, Sabrina Patrick, after she pleaded guilty to a felony charge of hitting her daughter's cheerleading coach..


    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 22, 2001

    LARGO -- Sabrina Patrick says she's innocent, even if she's admitting her guilt.

    Though she maintains she never slugged her daughter's Lakewood High School cheerleading coach in the head, Patrick decided to plead guilty to a felony charge rather than fight the case at trial.

    "I just want it over," the 40-year-old St. Petersburg resident said. "I didn't do it. But I don't want to drag my family through the stress of the trial."

    On Monday, she pleaded guilty to hitting a School Board employee, a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Nelly Khouzam sentenced Patrick to 18 months' probation and ordered her to have no contact with the victim.

    The judge also withheld a formal finding of guilt. The plea was an open one, meaning prosecutors and the judge gave her no guarantee about her sentence.

    Khouzam ordered Patrick, who has no prior criminal record, to undergo anger-management counseling.

    Patrick and her 17-year-old daughter's varsity cheerleading coach, Melanie Lane, had been involved in an ongoing dispute. Patrick's daughter, Paris Patrick, was the squad's captain.

    Police said Patrick had previously been warned about leaving threatening messages for Lane, 24.

    Patrick was angry at Lane for a variety of reasons, including a fundraising idea for the squad that Patrick didn't think Lane was supporting, Lane said.

    On Jan. 31, police and prosecutors say, Patrick and her husband, Pinellas sheriff's Deputy John Patrick, obtained access to the school gym through a back entrance. St. Petersburg police said Mr. Patrick flashed his badge, saying it was an emergency, to gain quick access.

    Once inside, Mrs. Patrick walked directly to Lane. Police said Mrs. Patrick shouted, cursed and poked the coach in the chest and stomach.

    With a closed fist, she then punched the coach in the right side of the face and bent the coach's finger back, police said.

    After her plea, Mrs. Patrick admitted only to grabbing Lane's finger.

    "She was yelling at me, "You don't tell me what to do!' with her finger in my face. I grabbed it and pushed it out of my face," Mrs. Patrick said.

    Lane did not attend the plea. Reached by phone afterward, she called Mrs. Patrick's denials "ridiculous."

    "Why would you want to plead guilty to something you didn't do?" Lane said. "That doesn't make any sense to me at all."

    Prosecutor Pat Siracusa said he was prepared to introduce at trial statements of 10 people who witnessed the altercation, including nine who witnessed the blow to Lane's head.

    Lane said stress from the event had forced her to temporarily withdraw from St. Petersburg Junior College three credits shy of graduation.

    She also said in a statement to the court, read by Siracusa, that she suffers lingering injuries from the blow to her head, including sinus problems, headaches and problems with her teeth.

    But defense attorney Jorge Chalela said there is no proof that his client hit the woman, much less proof of any injury.

    "The evidence just didn't match up," he said.

    Mr. Patrick was suspended for one day by the Sheriff's Office for flashing his badge, though he denied to a reporter that he did so.

    The couple's daughter, meanwhile, is getting ready for graduation and college in the fall at the University of Central Florida.

    In an article published Monday in the St. Petersburg Times' "Xpress" section, a weekly section geared toward young adults, Paris Patrick wrote an article promoting tolerance that Lane said the teenager's mother should heed.

    "Students need to learn how to handle their problems and anger without hurting others," Paris Patrick wrote.

    "It would be nice to stop all the violence," said Sandy Pelletier, Lane's mother. "It'd be great."

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