This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Nobody doubts that Cameron Herrin needs to pay for killing Jessica Reisinger-Raubenolt and her 21-month-old daughter, Lillia, after crashing on Tampa’s Bayshore Boulevard in 2018. But his 24-year prison sentence is excessive, far out of proportion to the six years the friend he was racing that day was given for his role in the tragedy. The 2nd District Court of Appeal should bring some fairness to this case or send it back to the trial court to reconsider.
The crash occurred on May 23, 2018. Herrin, then 18, drove a Ford Mustang while his friend, John Barrineau, then 17, drove a Nissan Altima as they traveled north on Bayshore. Witnesses described a race as the two moved in and out of traffic lanes passing slower cars. The young mother from Ohio was visiting relatives in Tampa and had gone out for a walk along the iconic boulevard, where a miles-long sidewalk runs near the bay and close to the traffic lanes. As she pushed her daughter in a stroller, Reisinger-Raubenolt stepped out to cross the roadway. The Mustang’s internal computer recorded its speed just before the collision at 102 mph.
There’s no quibbling here: Herrin must be held responsible for this terrible loss of life. But the 24-year sentence Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Christopher Nash imposed last year is out of kilter. Herrin and Barrineau were both charged with vehicular homicide. Barrineau later negotiated a plea agreement which carried a six-year prison sentence. Herrin pleaded guilty, but left his sentence to a judge’s discretion. So much for that.
On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal questioned lawyers for Herrin and the state over whether Nash abused his discretion in applying the hefty sentence. While state sentencing guidelines suggested 18 years in prison, judges have wide discretion to consider a range of factors. That’s how it should be. Every case is different. But these two defendants were involved in the same tragedy. While Herrin’s car struck the victims, it took two drivers in two cars that day to race along Bayshore. Their actions in the moments before the disaster certainly don’t justify a four-fold disparity in punishment.
Prosecutors, the victims’ family and even the general public have rightly said that this case demands accountability. But that standard applies to the fate meted out by the criminal justice system, too. It’s not good enough to dismiss this disparity as a “judgment call” as if an additional six, 12 or 18 years are merely petals to peel from a young person’s life. The appeals court should bring Herrin’s sentence in line, or direct the trial court to reconsider its fairness.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.