5 Years in Prison for Rebecca Lawless in DUI Death of Diane Upton in SR100 Crash
FlaglerLive | January 19, 2017
Rebecca Lawless, the 28-year-old woman accused of drunk driving and negligent-homicide manslaughter in the death of Diane Upton in a car crash near Palm Coast’s Town Center in 2014 pleaded guilty to four charges today and will serve five years in prison.
The sentence is less than half the minimum mandatory requirement of 11 years Lawless would have served had the strict letter of the law been applied. But Circuit Judge Dennis Craig conceded to a “downward departure, a significant one at that,” in the prosecution’s words, because Upton’s family agreed not to be as harshly punishing of Lawless, but rather give her another chance.
The lesser penalty reflects “what my mom would want,” Diane Upton’s daughter Kalyn Upton, told the court today, “and that’s to show mercy.”
Lawless, of 43 Filbert Lane in Palm Coast, also pleaded to three charges of drunk driving and causing serious injury to three individuals, among them Upton’s daughter and granddaughter, Kalyn Upton, 24 at the time of the crash, and Vivian Upton, 5 at the time. Lawless also caused injuries to a passenger in the car she was driving.
Kalyn Upton’s Statement To the Court
Lawless herself was not injured. She was also cited for blowing through a red light at the intersection of State Road 100 and Town Center and Landing Boulevard. Upton was driving her PT Cruiser out of the shopping center when Lawless ran the red light and crashed into the Cruiser with her Toyota Camry.
The plea agreement and sentence also includes five years’ probation after the prison term ends, with no eligibility for early termination of probation, and the permanent–lifelong–revocation of Lawless’s driver’s license. Lawless will also have to comply with a series of requirements such as attending certain classes.
Moments before the crash, Lawless had been pulled over by a Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy, found to be drunk, and ordered to turn over the driving her her car to her boyfriend, who would ostensibly drive her home. But shortly after the man took the wheel, Lawless again got into the driver’s seat and drove on–to the fatal encounter with Upton. One of the deputies involved in the earlier traffic stop, where a field sobriety test on Lawless was aborted, knew her personally. (See the full story here.)Lawless pleaded before Judge Craig at the Flagler County Courthouse this afternoon. For almost an hour, as Craig went through a long docket filled with other cases, Kalyn Upton sat on the first bench in the audience section of the courtroom. Lawless sat two benches directly behind her. Upton sat next to a victim’s advocate who, as is usual in such cases, had come prepared with a box of tissues, which Upton freely used as she alternately tried to settle herself and write notes on a yellow legal pad. When Lawless was finally called up, the victim’s advocate took Upton’s hand and held it firmly, speaking words of encouragement to her.
Lawless made a brief appearance at the podium before the judge asked Upton if she had a statement for the court. Upton did, and after crossing paths with Lawless, was seated in the witness stand. She lost “the best friend and most loving person I’ve ever known,” she said of her mother, describing how, after having had a child of her own and left home at 18, her mother had taken custody of her child, taken care of her and raised her as her own, all along making sure Kalyn could see her daughter and make her way back to assume her responsibilities. “She was the only person who supported me through every bad decision I ever made,” Upton said.
The night of the crash, the family had been at a Halloween party, and Kalyn had convinced her mother that the trio should stay together that night. At the fateful intersection, Kalyn had actually seen Lawless blow through the red light, she told the court, and warned her mother. “She didn’t hear me, she was happy go lucky,” Kalyn said.Now, “every night my daughter cries about my mom, every time she hears sirens, she cries about my mom, every time she sees a cop, she’s afraid. Hopefully she’ll overcome that,” Kalyn Upton said. She then urged Lawless to use her time in prison wisely and learn from it.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant State Prosecutor Tim Pribisco. Lawless’s attorney was Richard Zaleski, who, with Lawless standing next to him before the judge, described Lawless as “extremely remorseful the entire time that I’ve known her.”
“She’s going to accept responsibility for the mistakes made,” Zaleski said.
Lawless pleaded no contest at 2:43 p.m. Seven minutes later, after she was finger-printed and submitted to a DNA swab of her mouth, Lawless was escorted out of the courtroom through the side door used for defendants and inmates, in handcuffs. She did not look back at the dozen-odd people who had been with her when she had walked in and sat through the proceedings.
- Diane Upton of Palm Coast Is Killed, Kalyn Upton and Child Seriously Hurt in 2-Vehicle Wreck on SR100
- Rebecca Lawless, 26, Faces DUI Manslaughter Charge in Death of Diane Upton on SR100
- Palm Coast Woman Charged in DUI Manslaughter Was Stopped Moments Before the Crash, and Released
- Diane Upton’s Obituary