TAMPA — After Allison Huffman slammed her car into a tow truck driver who had stopped to help a pair of stranded motorists on the Howard Frankland Bridge, she drove to a hotel and got out to look at the damage.
She saw shattered glass, a bare tire rim, a shattered windshield and streaks of blood that ran all the way to the trunk.
She didn’t call police. Instead, she took a cab to the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, withdrew $1,000 from her bank account, and spent the next 11 hours drinking and gambling.
Those choices were what landed her a 28-year prison sentence Tuesday for leaving the scene of an accident with death.
"Your actions, ma’am, are reprehensible," Circuit Judge Vivian Corvo said. "It is inconceivable that you did not know what happened."
The crash that killed Rogelio Perez-Borroto occurred about 2 a.m. on Feb. 15, 2016, on the northbound side of the bridge that connects Tampa and St. Petersburg.
Perez-Borroto, 43, stopped on the right shoulder to assist Raoul Antoine and Adline Joassaint, whose Honda SUV had broken down. He had the pair sit in his truck cab while he secured the SUV to the wrecker. He was inches away from traffic when a black Volks-wagen Passat drifted over the white line that separated the outside travel lane from the shoulder. Huffman, 38, was behind the wheel.
The car slammed into the back of the tow truck. Perez-Borroto tumbled through the air. He landed more than 100 feet away.
As shattered glass rained over her front seat, Huffman kept driving.
She got off the interstate in the West Shore area. Surveillance video from the Crown Plaza hotel showed her parking, then inspecting the damage. She then walked to a Walgreens store on Kennedy Boulevard, where she asked store employees to call her a cab. She used the name "Beth."
After that, she went to the Hard Rock, where more surveillance videos showed her drinking, then playing the slot machines until just before noon. She then went to a bathroom and changed out of the white shirt and leggings she had been wearing. She took another cab to an Ybor City hookah bar, where she called a friend and asked to be picked up.
It wasn’t until later that day that Huffman divulged to the friend that she had been in an accident that might have been on the news. The friend later phoned police.
Perez-Borroto’s family members lined the seats of the courtroom gallery Tuesday. They were joined by several of his fellow tow truck drivers. All wore yellow T-shirts that bore his picture, along with the message, "Slow down. Move Over. It’s the law."
His sister, Zarais Perez-Borroto, read several letters they had penned that offered a sketch of the man.
Known as "Roger," he had lived in the United States for about a year, having moved here from Cuba. His sister said he was always concerned for her well-being, making frequent calls to ensure she had eaten, slept, and taken medications. She still saves his voicemails. He carried a picture of her in his wallet.
Since his death, she said she has dealt with panic attacks, anger, and depression.
"A beautiful memory has turned into an unending nightmare," she said.
Perez-Borroto also left behind two other sisters, a brother, his mother, and a daughter.
As Huffman stood in handcuffs and an orange jail uniform, her only words were directed to them.
"I know there’s no words that can get you any comfort," she said. "But I’m truly sorry."
She had three prior drunk driving charges. But the delay between the fatal crash and Huffman’s arrest made it impossible to determine if she had been impaired.
Her attorney, Michael Hanson, told the judge that Huffman suffers bipolar disorder. Her parents, Vivian and David Huffman, mentioned it, too. They expressed regret for not getting her the help she needed when the illness became apparent in her teen years.
Assistant State Attorney Aaron Hubbard said mental illness was no excuse.
"Bipolar or not," he said, "she should have had some regard for human dignity."
"It’s all your fault," she told Huffman. "That whole family will feel the brunt of what you did for the rest of their lives."
Contact Dan Sullivan at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.