It was expected to be an evening of fun — just fishing and drinking with friends at an East Naples lake. But when it was over, a 15-year-old Lely High School freshman was dead after a Jeep Cherokee she was riding in crashed into a semi-tractor trailer in East Naples.
On Thursday, the driver, James Paul “JP” Gormley, now 24, of Balfour Drive on Marco Island, was sent to a state prison for six years, followed by nine years of probation for DUI manslaughter in the death of his friend, Kristen Stone, on April 26, 2007.
His license also will be permanently revoked, as required by law, and he must pay $3,000 in fines.
Collier Circuit Judge Fred Hardt also imposed a concurrent five-year state prison term for DUI with serious bodily injuries involving Marcel Droese, 21, of Marco Island, who suffered serious head and brain injuries that required lengthy hospital treatment and rehabilitation.
As part of probation, he must undergo a substance-abuse evaluation, random drug and alcohol tests, and must stay away from all alcohol. Hardt warned he’d face up to 20 years if he violated those conditions.
Gormley said little at the sentencing hearing and his voice shook as he said he understood he’d waived his rights to a trial by accepting a plea agreement negotiated by Assistant State Attorney Mara Marzano and defense attorney Donald Day.
“This tragedy will never be out of their lives,” Marzano said after sentencing, adding that there’s no good resolution in cases like this.
Day called Gormley and Kristen “very close friends.”
“He was really devastated by this,” Day said, adding that Gormley had just finished his second year at Edison State College. “His family has been devastated. It’s a tough emotional thing for the families.”
Records show Gormley was arrested on two Xanax drug possession charges in April 2006 and prosecuted on one, which was dismissed nine months later after he successfully completed a pretrial diversion program. He also was arrested on a misdemeanor worthless check charge in April 2005, but it was dropped two months later. Day represented him on both.
Kristen’s brother, Jeremy, who came to court to represent the family, sat in the back of the court room and didn’t want to speak at sentencing. He declined comment as he thanked Marzano and left afterward.
Gormley looked tearfully back at his mother, Theresa Chapman, and family members as he was fingerprinted, then they all cried as they hugged him goodbye before he was led into a holding cell.
Motions filed in January show Day tried to preclude Marzano from bringing up Gormley’s blood-alcohol level, which was extrapolated from blood taken at the hospital 4 1/2 hours after the crash. Day had argued the state’s toxicology expert, Dr. Robert White, had based his calculations on inaccurate and incomplete data and wouldn’t be able to testify with a reasonable degree of medical probability, a requirement for expert testimony.
Hardt denied that motion, but granted Day’s attempt to prevent Marzano from bringing up the THC — tetrahydrocannabinol, the main chemical in marijuana that alters the brain — that was found in Gormley’s blood. Day had argued White couldn’t say whether Gormley was impaired by marijuana or when he’d last smoked it and noted that Gormley hadn’t smoked it the night of the crash.
An affidavit filed by Cpl. John R. Benton of the Florida Highway Patrol outlined FHP’s investigation, which showed:
Gormley picked up Stone, Mike Droese, 16, and his brother, Marcel, and Lisa Michele Brown, 17, of Naples, at the Droeses’ home at 4 p.m. They drove to Sabal Palm Road and headed east to a lake, where they fished and drank beers.
Mike Droese told troopers he’d had three or four beers, while Gormley drank about six and had been drinking before he arrived at the lake. Droese said Gormley appeared to be “buzzed” when they left at about 8:45 p.m.
Marcel Droese, who drank three or four beers, said they couldn’t use the seatbelts on the way to the lake because the road was bumpy, but the rear seatbelts also were stuck behind the seat. Gormley invoked his right to remain silent and wouldn’t talk to investigators.
At about 9 p.m., Gormley was driving west on Sabal Palm Road toward the intersection of Collier Boulevard, where reflective stop signs, diamonds and warning signs indicated an upcoming intersection.
The speed limit is 30 mph, but he was driving about 72 mph, the report says, and tried to stop, but was driving too fast and slid into the intersection, leaving 282 feet of skid marks that began 245 feet east of the stop sign. Gormley’s Jeep hit the semi tractor-trailer, which was driven by Rafael Machado Matos, 31, of Homestead, who was driving north on Collier Boulevard.
The impact caused the Jeep to roll over and hit a guardrail, ejecting Marcel Droese and Kristen onto the roadway. No one in the Jeep was wearing a seat belt and airbags for Gormley and Brown, who sat next to him, did not deploy.
Several Good Samaritans who witnessed the crash stopped to help. Kristen was unresponsive, but one man helped Brown out of the Jeep and a woman said she smelled alcohol on Gormley’s breath and he appeared drunk.
An air ambulance took Kristen to Lee Memorial Hospital in Fort Myers, where she was pronounced dead at 11:35 p.m. An autopsy showed she died of brain injuries due to skull fractures.
The others were taken to NCH Downtown Naples Hospital, with Marcel Droese in critical condition; his brother and Brown were treated for minor injuries. Machado Matos, who was traveling about 39 mph in a 55-mph zone, was not injured.