CLEARWATER - There was no doubt Joshua Adams, then 19, was driving recklessly when his Mustang collided with a pickup in Seminole four years ago as the two vehicles were engaging in a cat-and-mouse race on Bryan Dairy Road.
But Adams should not be held responsible for what happened to the pickup's driver, Justin Fenton, also 19, who was thrown from the truck in the collision and subsequently died.
That was the conclusion a jury reached Thursday. Asked by prosecutors to convict Adams of vehicular homicide in the Feb. 20, 2009, wreck - a crime in which reckless driving is said to cause someone's death - jurors opted instead to find him guilty of reckless driving, a much less serious crime.
Adams, of New Port Richey, was looking at a prison sentence of more than nine years if convicted of vehicular homicide. Instead, Pinellas Circuit Judge Keith Meyer sentenced him to 90 days at the Pinellas County Jail, as he was asked to do by prosecutors.
"This is one of those cases where the law was followed but the outcome doesn't really, you know, jibe with the severity of what happened," Meyer said.
"You lost the race that day, but the winner paid with his life," he told Adams.
Fenton's grandmother and guardian, Connie Fenton, told the judge she was relieved the case had finally come to a close, but she didn't seem satisfied with the outcome.
"It does not appear that Mr. Adams has had any remorse for his actions," she said.
The judge made the same observation.
It was between 6 and 7 p.m. when Fenton started tailgating Adams on a stretch of Bryan Dairy Road, near U.S. 19, setting in motion an impromptu chase where the two drivers passed one another and cut one another off.
Witnesses recalled Adams spinning his tires and revving his engine at an intersection, and his passenger, Joshua Melching, testified Adams told him, "We're going to show them what this car can really do," Assistant State Attorney Della Connolly told jurors on the first day of the trial.
At one point, Fenton pulled ahead and put a distance of two football fields between his Ford F-150 and Adams' Mustang. Adams tried to catch up, driving 60 to 80 mph in a 40 mph zone to do so, Assistant State Attorney Holly Grissinger told jurors Thursday.
The side of the Mustang struck the side of the pickup as Adams tried to pass Fenton, and the pickup flipped, ejecting Fenton and his twin brother, Joshua, who survived.
While prosecutors argued Adams was guilty of a pattern of reckless driving - and that it didn't matter what part of the Mustang struck what part of the F-150 - Adams' defense attorney, Assistant Public Defender Allison Miller, told jurors that Fenton caused his own death by veering into Adams' travel lane.