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  • About Jack Strickland

    Jack Strickland is a retired AP writer who was nominated by our newspaper for The Pulitzer Prize. His writing about Florida prisons, cancer victims, sports, and just plain folks is a special treasury for readers. He is active in the war against cancer. He, himself, is a survivor. As a reporter he covered many of the major stories in Florida. He lives in Gainesville where he is an advocate for cancer patients of all ages. Jack finds special joy in getting sports stars and teams involved in the care young cancer victims. He claims that the athletes benefit from the involvement as much as the patients. He says he managed to miss many tackles as a football player long ago, and learned that defeat can be temporary and serve as the foundation for success.
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    Jack Strickland's Florida Tales...

    Day in court in Alachua County: tragedy without an end

    October 15, 2016

    Gainesville

    Taylor Swilley was back in court last week.  On Thursday, Oct.  6, 21- year old Swilley appeared before Circuit Judge Mark W. Moseley for a monthly case management hearing. Swilley remains in jail. He is held in lieu of a $455,000 bond. Swilley faces eight criminal charges resulting from an Easter Sunday traffic accident,

    Last week’s hearing was uneventful. It amounted to a routine report to the judge, by the prosecutor and the defense attorney, on the status of the case. The final desposition of the case appears to be months away. Judge Mosley seems determined to steer the case toward an early resolution.

    The brief hearing was eventful. The prosecutor, Assistant State Attorney Lua Lepianka, announced that she has offered a plea bargain that has an expiration date of Oct. 6, 2016. The deal calls for Swilley to plead guilty as charged in return for a 20-year prison sentence, She said she has received no response from Swilley or his attorney.

    Lepianka told Judge Mosley she was extending the offer for one week but would take the offer off the table if Swilley’s attorney proceeds toward taking sworn depositions in the case.  She told the court upon conviction the sentencing guidelines call for Swilley to receive a sentence of between 33 and 48 years in prison.

    Judge Mosley told the prosecutor that as a general rule he requires depositions to be taken in serious cases. He said the state is free to make plea bargain offers or take them off the table at will. He made it clear that the court is the final authority and can accept or reject any plea deals. 

    Indications suggest Swilley is an outstanding young man and father of two. The only conviction on his record is for running a stop sign.  His life changed forever in the blink of an eye on Easter Sunday. He was driving his family to an Easter party and egg hunt when he inexplicably veered across the center line on a dangerous highway.

    He collided head on with an oncoming car. There were two fatilities and three serious injuries in the three car collision that ensued. He was arrested, two days before his twenty-first birthday, and was charged with eight criminal traffic offenses. There is a campaign to keep Swilley in prison for the remainder of his life. 

    Toxicology results show methamphedamines in his system. Swilley is charged with driving under the influence with impaired driving causing the accident. He is charged with the following “traffic offenses”:  three counts of DUI with property damage; three counts of DUI with serious bodily injury to another: and two counts of homicide-negligent vehicular manslaughter-DUI causing death to another human.

    The State views the accident as eight separate criminal offenses.  Swilley will be vigorously prosecuted, accordingly.

    Swilley’s family and friends claim that is unfair. They say the disaster was one brief incident of distracted driving. Those who were with him report Swilley had used “meth” days before the collision but was not intoxicated or impaired in any way at the time of the accident.

    They point out that Swilley’s 4-month-old daughter died in the accident and he knew the 6-year -old boy who died in another car in the collision. His friends say Swilley is devastated and his grief will last for the remainder of his life. They believe the self imposed punishment he has to live with every day is more severe than anything the court can impose. 

    Those who oppose Swilley say that is not enough. They are very vocal about wanting him imprisoned for life. They say he forfeited his right to live in a free society when he caused the death of two beautiful children.

    An uninvolved car crash victim of the saga is Swilley’s mother. She was in court again last week standing up for her son. She quitely sobbed from her seat in the gallery when Swilley was brought, in chains, from the courthouse holding cell into the courtroom and before the judge. She lost a grandchild in the accident. Now she sees herself losing a son in court.

    Outside the courtroom after the hearing she tearfully asked, referring to Assistant State’s Attorney Lepianka, “Who does she think she is, God?”

    She was told, in her son’s life, Lepianka is presently just a step below God. The courthouse observer mused that the proper way to tell the prosecutor to “go to Hell” is for her son to take his case to trial and win acquittal before a jury.

    Judge Mosley scheduled another case management hearing for November.