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Kimball Sentenced to 17 Years in Prison : Former Olympic Diver Must Serve at Least a Third of Term in Fatal Drunk-Driving Case

January 31, 1989|ELLIOTT ALMOND | Times Staff Writer

Bruce Kimball, a 1984 Olympic silver medalist in diving, Monday was sentenced to 17 years in prison and 15 years' probation for a drunk-driving accident that killed two teen-agers and injured four last August in Brandon, Fla., a suburb of Tampa.

Kimball, dressed in a blue jail uniform, showed no emotion during a 2 1/2-hour hearing in Tampa before Hillsborough Circuit Judge Harry Lee Coe, who said he hopes the sentence "will scream out to the young people that you must suffer the consequences of drunk driving. We must stop it."

Coe also ordered the permanent revocation of Kimball's driver's license and stipulated that Kimball's probation include community service.

After the sentencing and a brief visit with his parents and friends, Kimball, 25, was led from the courtroom, crying. He will remain in Hillsborough County Jail until he is taken to the Lake Butler reception center for the Florida State Prison system.

Bobbie Glover of the prison system said that Kimball will be taken to one of the state's major facilities, but because of his lack of criminal history, he eventually will be put in a low-security facility.

Under law, he must serve one-third of the sentence before becoming eligible for release. Thus, Kimball will not be eligible for more than 5 years.

In the Florida legal system, prisoners are not eligible for parole, but they can receive early release at the discretion of prison officials. Coe said that most prisoners, except those who commit violent crimes, sex crimes or drug trafficking, serve 33% to 40% of their sentences.

Coe said many are released early because of a federally mandated prison cap, stating that when the Florida facilities reach 90% capacity, their populations must be reduced.

Kimball pleaded guilty Jan. 11 to two counts of drunk driving-manslaughter and three counts of driving under the influence-causing serious injury.

Shortly after testimony began, he unexpectedly changed his plea to guilty.

Kimball was allowed to change the plea Monday to no contest, a technical move giving victims and their families a better chance of collecting damages from insurance companies.

Lee Fugate, one of Kimball's attorneys, said: "Bruce's only reaction was, he had wanted to take his punishment and wanted to do what he could to take away the pain and suffering from the victims and his family. He is a courageous kid, I'll tell you that."

State sentencing guidelines called for no fewer than 7 years in prison and no more than 22, but Coe had the discretion to go under or over those guidelines.

Coe sentenced Kimball to 15 years on one count of manslaughter and 2 years on one count of driving under the influence-serious injury, with the sentences to run consecutively. Kimball drew 15 years' probation on the second manslaughter count and 5 years each on the two other injury counts, with the probationary periods to be served concurrently.

Coe said during sentencing that Kimball did not receive the maximum penalty "because the defense demonstrated no element of intent and harm in the case."

But Coe added: "This was not only punishment, but a deterrent. He wasn't going to be rehabilitated. He was as rehabilitated as he would ever be."

Several civil suits have been filed against Kimball as a result of the accident, and his attorneys told Coe that Kimball decided to ask that he be allowed to change his plea to no contest out of fear that his two insurance companies might evade liability if they could prove he violated conditions of his policy.

"A guilty plea could possibly do that," attorney Greg Sawyer told reporters. "I have no indication either company would do so, but we would like to remove that possibility."

John Skye, an assistant state attorney, said that relatives of the victims opposed the no-contest plea, despite the possibility that the insurance companies might be freed of liability by guilty pleas.

"From a practical standpoint, there's going to be no problem on (proving) liability. This (no contest) just buffers your position," Coe said. "It doesn't alter in any way what is going to be proved.

"I'm going to allow the no-contest pleas in deference to the victims. I do not think it wise to run the risk on this. It is somewhat a fine point, but I don't see that the risk is merited."

Robert E. Bedell, father of one of the two killed, and April Bruffy, one of the injured, both urged Coe to impose the maximum sentence.

"Mr. Kimball chose to drink and drive and then maim and kill," said Bedell, whose son, Robert, 19, died. Kevin Gossic, 16, was the other victim who died.

Bedell later said he was satisfied with the sentence, but not with Kimball's compassion.

"Up until the last minute, he didn't really consider us," Bedell said. "We were prepared to sit through the trial. I don't think he could face up to it himself. He said he was changing the plea to protect victims, but he was protecting himself, too.

"I didn't see any real remorse throughout the whole thing. It has always been business as usual for him."

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