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Hit and run victim not happy with plea deal | Crime

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Hit and run victim not happy with plea deal
Crime, News
Hit and run victim not happy with plea deal

Tampa, Florida --  On Tuesday, Andres Trujillo pleaded guilty to two counts of leaving the scene of an accident, one with an injury and another with a death.

Police say Trujillo admitted to his involvement of a hit and run crash on Kennedy Boulevard that killed UT student Erik Nicoletti and severely injured his friend, 20-year-old Cree Riley.

He will serve 15 years in prison, followed by 15 years probation under the terms of the plea deal.

It's not the outcome Riley had hoped for.

"I'm kind of dumbfounded by the whole situation," Riley told 10 News from her home in Pennsylvania.

She was visiting a friend in Tampa in November of 2009 when she met Nicoletti.  The two were walking with a group of friends to get food when they were hit by the car driven by Trujillo.

He later ditched the car, but turned himself in after police found his vehicle and traced it back to him.

"I panicked, I was scared," Trujillo told the media after his arrest.

Nicoletti was declared brain dead and removed from life support in the days after the crash.

Read:  Erik Nicoletti remembered

Read: Erik Nicoletti taken off life support

Life for Riley hasn't been the same since that night.

The once active young woman who loved volleyball, snowboarding and training to be a fire fighter saw her life change in a matter of moments.

She says she cannot open her jaw anymore than three quarters of an inch and surgery to correct the problem may be too risky.

She has yet to find a surgeon willing to perform the dangerous operation, so she tries to live as carefully as possible until then.

"If I were to get hit in the jaw, it could potentially kill me because of where the bones are and I have bones floating around in gray matter," she explained.

Riley says she and the Nicoletti family had hoped Trujillo would get the maximum of 35 years behind bars for the leaving the scene of an accident charges.

For the last year, they prepared to go to trial until this week when they were called about the potential deal.

"We just didn't know what to do honestly.  It's kind of....stuck.  It's like, what do you do, do you risk on getting less time than any time at all," she said about the decision between the plea and going to trial.

Riley says she felt like there was no other option but to agree to the deal, and she's not happy about it.

"I just don't understand," she said.

Florida law changed in recent years, extending the maximum sentence for leaving the scene of an accident with death from 15 years to 30 years.

Tampa defense attorney, Ty Tison, who is also a former prosecutor says the Legislature's decision to increase the penalty from a second degree felony to a first degree felony was the right thing to do.

"We want to solve what happened and so the fact they've increased that exposure, perhaps will deter people from leaving the scene," he pointed out.

He says it's possible Trujillo could have received even less time had the law not been changed.

When asked if 15 years seems fair, he said "yes".

But, in his experience, he says it also doesn't mean either side is happy about the plea deal.

"Because each side has substantial risk, they are able to come to an agreement. Nobody walks away saying, I'm excited about the deal, but they both make a deal because they both know it's fair under the totality of the circumstances," said Tison.

He points out the defense could have argued the two victims were not walking in properly marked areas or were under the influence of alcohol.

Police were never able to determine whether Trujillo was drinking because he was arrested a day after the crash.

Trujillo told police he was bending over to pick up a lit cigarette when he hit what he thought was a small vehicle or motorcycle.

Riley says she'll be in Tampa with her family and Nicoletti's family for Trujillo's February 8th sentencing.

It will be the first time she'll face Trujillo.

"I'm scared," she said, "I just don't even know how to react when I see him."

She says she's back in school, attending on-line classes through Penn State because she is not able to handle walking to class every day.

She tells 10 News she's changed her major from engineering to criminal justice, with hopes of one day working in forensics or law.

It's her goal to help victims like herself.

She is also working again, although it's only part-time work.  A ski resort she used to work for hired her to work two days a week, scheduling ski classes.

"It's the only job I can do," she said.

She's undergone multiple surgeries and still experiences pain in her leg and jaw.

But, the emotional wounds are scars that will never heal.

While she only just met Nicoletti on the night of the crash, she says she's kept in touch with the young man's family.

"I've learned so much more about him, which makes me miss him that much more," she said.

"They are amazing people," she told 10 News of the Nicoletti family.

While many people are preparing to celebrate the holidays with their families, this time of year will never be the same for Riley.

She says she understands how lucky she is to be alive, but can't help but to feel the Nicoletti's pain of losing their son.

"Last year, I slept through Christmas.  I don't want to deal with it.  I don't' want to think about tit because every time the holidays come around, all I do is think about the Nicoletti's."

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