'It really doesn't change anything'
The woman who pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the 2016 deaths of a Louisville police detective and a University of Kentucky employee was sentenced Friday to 20 years in prison.
In February, Suzanne Whitlow, 28, entered a conditional guilty plea to driving under the influence and two counts of second-degree manslaughter with the understanding that she will appeal a judge’s decision regarding evidence collection in the case.
Whitlow has acknowledged that she was impaired when she struck Detective Jason Schweitzer and UK employee Timothy Moore.
“I take full responsibility for all this,” Whitlow said before Fayette Circuit Judge Kimberly Bunnell pronounced sentence. “I know I have to go to prison. I shouldn’t have done what I did.”
Whitlow was driving southbound on South Upper Street when her vehicle struck Schweitzer, 37, and Moore, 56, who were standing at South Upper and Bolivar streets. In Lexington for a Fraternal Order of Police convention, Schweitzer and another person asked for directions while Moore and some co-workers stood in the doorway of the Heating and Cooling Division at Peterson Service Building, according to Moore’s boss. The two were hit when Schweitzer lingered and talked a bit more with Moore.
Jessica Schweitzer, Jason’s widow, was asked if she felt Whitlow’s remorse and if she accepted her apology.
“I don’t know, it’s hard to say,” Jessica Schweizter said. “It doesn’t really matter. It really doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t change the fact that my husband’s gone and that both my kids don’t have their father here. ...Her apology doesn’t change that.”
The 20-year sentence was the maximum that Whitlow could receive under the law. Prosecutors had asked the judge for the maximum.
But they questioned in a court document whether Whitlow truly appreciated the serious nature of the offense given that she was “out and about driving under the influence after ‘completing’ a court-mandated DUI course” for a previous drunken-driving arrest.
“In this case, there are no winners and only losers,” defense attorney Jerry Wright said in his written response to the prosecutors. Wright said he asked the judge to “set a sentence that is fair to all parties.”
The case isn’t over yet because of Whitlow’s conditional plea allows a challenge of police evidence collection.
After establishing probable cause, police got a court order from a district judge directing Whitlow to have her blood drawn by UK Chandler Hospital medical staff in order to get a blood-alcohol level.
Wright argued that, under state law, police should have obtained a search warrant before having UK medical staff draw the sample. That issue will be appealed to a higher court.
After Friday’s sentencing, family and friends of Schweitzer went to the crash scene to put flowers in a basket by the Peterson Service Building, the scene of the offense. Several people spoke about Schweitzer.
“I feel like he made an investment in me and in our friendship and in my life,” said Emily David. “...We are now paying back the dividends of what Jason has invested in us to the kids and to Jessica. And that is going to be ongoing. We’re going to be paying back those dividends for a lifetime.”