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By ELAINE SILVESTRINI The Tampa Tribune
Published: Mar 7, 2007
To Judge Ronald Ficarrotta, the accident was a horrible crime.
Ficarrotta on Tuesday sentenced Espinoza to 30 years in prison, the maximum. Espinoza was convicted in January of driving-under-the-influence manslaughter for the February 2006 car crash that killed Serrano, who was Mayor Pam Iorio's bodyguard and driver.
"I'm really sorry for what happened," Espinoza, 36, an illegal Mexican immigrant, said through an interpreter before he was sentenced.
"I'm very sorry. I'm not a bad person. I don't have a record. I've never done anything like this. … We all make mistakes. Nobody's perfect."
Espinoza drove a 1996 Pontiac that crushed the city-issue Ford Taurus Serrano drove that day after driving Iorio home from the Gasparilla Distance Classic.
"This was a tragic, tragic accident," the judge said Tuesday. But this accident was a crime, he told Espinoza, pointing out that he was intoxicated, chose to drive and fled after the crash.
"Everyone in this courtroom makes mistakes," the judge said. "To characterize your actions that day in February as a mistake is to grossly underestimate it. You committed a crime. You took the life of another human being … who by all accounts was an outstanding police officer, an outstanding family man, an outstanding human being."
Assistant State Attorney Kim Seace said Espinoza's apology was worthless. She said Espinoza was given an opportunity to show remorse when interviewed for his presentence report and instead invented a new story, claiming he was a backseat passenger in the car that hit Serrano's.
"He has no remorse, and this apology today, I think, is an empty one," Seace said, asking Ficarrotta to impose the maximum sentence.
Serrano's widow, Mylin Matos Serrano, told Ficarrotta her husband was important to a lot of people.
"My husband's watch ended tragically on Feb. 25, 2006, as he made his way home to the family he loved, after doing the job he loved," she said. "He will be forever missed. The void in my life will never be filled."
Juan Serrano protected foreign dignitaries visiting Tampa, infiltrated drug-trafficking organizations and helped start the department's gang-suppression unit. Serrano worked as a police officer in Puerto Rico for several years before joining the Tampa police in 1989.
After the hearing, Mylin Serrano was asked whether she accepted Espinoza's apology or agreed with the prosecutor that it was not sincere. A little bit of both, she said.
"I'm pretty sure he had time to remorse," she said. "I can't judge him, but he might be remorse, and I hope he was."
Police Chief Stephen Hogue attended the hearing and later said, "It's kind of a sad day, but by the same token, I think justice was serviced." Hogue said he came to court to represent law enforcement and be there for Serrano's family.
"We also lost a family member of our own," he said.
Reporter Elaine Silvestrini can be reached at (813) 259-7837 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mylin Matos Serrano read this statement to Judge Ronald Ficarrotta:
Juan Serrano was a quiet and humble man, a family man, a father to his children and mine, an attentive son to his parents, a loving man all around. He was my best friend, my soul mate and partner in life. Juan paid attention to all the details, and I never had to. Now, at times, they overwhelm me.
He also belonged to the Tampa community. He was first and always a police officer, and I knew and understood that. He was completely dedicated to the job that he loved and was so proud of. He was fiercely protective of Mayor Iorio and was so honored to be not only her bodyguard, but also her friend.
My husband's watch ended tragically on Feb. 25, 2006, as he made his way home to the family he loved, after doing the job he loved. He will be forever missed. The void in my life will never be filled.
From my heart, I thank you for your time and consideration, and I have complete faith in your discretion.