Sunday's column looked at the case of an 18-year-old
woman who was convicted last year at the age of 17 of driving drunk on State Road 19 in Tavares.
As part of her probation, Toni Nieves was not supposed to drink or drive. However, she was doing both when she hit a vehicle near
in Orange County on
and killed the two young men in it. Investigators have suggested that she was speeding when the crash occurred about 1 a.m.
Troopers haven't decided who was at fault, and no charges have been filed in that case.
Meanwhile, however, the court action bounced back to Lake County, where County Judge Donna Miller is to decide whether Nieves violated the terms of her probation.
The maximum sentence she can impose on Nieves is nine months in jail. Miller suggested that Nieves plead guilty in exchange for a six-month sentence, and the family of Bradley Summersill, one of the men killed in the accident, objected strenuously.
Miller didn't see the difference between six and nine months, but in the end set the matter for a hearing in June.
Readers checked in over the weekend on Miller's decision. Here is a sample of what they thought:
You are so right. For all of us, accountability is the central issue in this case. If there had been the proper measure of it applied to Ms. Nieves's first offense — or in her father's home — her second day in court would not have been necessary, and two young men would have gone on living.
Robert S. Carr
It was disappointing to read your Sunday column criticizing Judge Donna Miller. My job was to reconstruct and determine the causal factors in serious and fatal vehicle crashes. That resulted in testifying for the prosecutor before various judges and understanding their operations and demeanors.
I also was chairman of the Lake County Traffic Safety Committee for a while and got to know Miller's demeanor through some of the drivers she sent to attend our committee meetings.
Miller, in my book, is classified as a "hanging judge." She metes out the severest penalties and is not one to sit around wasting taxpayers' time, discussing the sentence.
Toni Nieves, based on what I read in the papers, deserves the maximum sentence, I agree.
However, let's consider the judge's position. Her docket is usually very busy and persons charged are entitled to swift adjudication. So a long drawn-out hearing to add three months to Nieves' sentence makes no sense and would be needlessly costly to the county. How many other cases were scheduled for that day or that week? What sort of backlog would ensue?
The news accounts of Nieves's respect for the law suggests that she will be back in court again after her six-month sentence as a repeat offender. Two more months in the jail wouldn't change that.
In my opinion, her disrespect is so flagrant that a 12-month sentence is not apt to change her attitude.
However, the judge simply acted to move things along.
Since reading the original article this has been on my mind. I had to reread it to make sure I understood it because I could not believe what Miller had said.
Because of her arrogance and the stone cold apathy directed toward the families of these victims, she will never get another vote from me or anyone that I know. I have spoken to many people about this, and we all feel the same. What happened in that courtroom was a disgrace.
Miller's insistence in the original news article that this is "not what the tax payers want" is so off base that it would be laughable if it weren't so sad. This is
what the tax payers want. Two young men are dead. What part of that doesn't she understand?
And, from the comments submitted to the Internet version of the story come these two viewpoints:
… [Judge Miller] clearly believes 6 months should suffice to jolt the teen into reality — 6 months is a HUGE chunk of time for a teenager. This entirely agrees with statistical indicators: for most teens like this girl, even a month is enough, while unfairly prolonged sentences can drive such teens toward more crime.
… She should not have been driving — period. Even if the second accident didn't happen and she was just picked up for driving with a suspended DL, she should not have been driving. She was given a second chance by the court to adhere to the rules, and she broke them once again. She should sit … in jail for nine months and think about all the chances she has been given.
Lauren Ritchie can be reached at
You may leave her a message at 352-742-5918. Her blog is online at