Bob Meyers had a nickname for his niece ever since she started bouncing around as a toddler:
As in spitfire. Spunky. Creative. Artsy. Playful. Fun.
As in a young woman whose spirit was cut too short too soon. As in an 18-year-old whose family has a hard time processing why her good nature and her future were snuffed in a drunken driving crash in September 2010.
Something else it was having a hard time processing Friday: the sentence given to Samuel Corbitt for causing the crash that killed Amanda Meyers.
Douglas County District Judge Thomas Otepka sentenced Corbitt, 37, to 10 to 15 years in prison. Under state sentencing guidelines — which cut most sentences in half — he will serve five years before he is eligible for parole and 7½ years before release.
Corbitt faced up to 50 years in prison, a sentence that would equate to about 25 years time served.
Bob Meyers said the family knows that no sentence will “make us feel any better.”
In fact, Meyers said, his family knows what Corbitt's family is going through. Meyers' brother-in-law just was released after spending five years in a Missouri prison for a drunken driving crash that killed a young man on a gravel road.
The difference: Corbitt had a history of DUIs; the brother-in-law did not.
“My personal opinion is, I think (Corbitt) should have done a minimum of 10 years just because of his priors,” Bob Meyers said. “It's not like we're vengeful people. We've seen both sides. I guess we would have liked to have seen him step up and take responsibility for what he did.”
Corbitt took the case to trial — and his attorney, James Martin Davis, argued that Meyers was at fault for pulling out in front of Corbitt near 64th and Pacific Streets.
Samuel Corbitt's blood-alcohol content was .21 percent. He was driving 57 mph in a 35 mph zone. The force of the collision pushed Meyers' car more than 60 feet up the hill on Pacific Street.
After hearing that, a jury convicted Corbitt of motor vehicle homicide.
Corbitt stood up Friday, faced the Meyers family and apologized.
“I wish you mercy,” he said. “I just wish that you could someday look at me and not think I'm a monster. I just hope you can accept my apology, if not today, someday.”
Surrounded by family and friends, Bob Meyers watched Corbitt. For a moment, Corbitt seemed to whimper, though no tears came out.
“It seemed pretty scripted,” Meyers said. “But I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. I would like to believe he was being honest. Otherwise, this sentencing is for nothing.”
Davis said Corbitt was sincere. Corbitt, who had worked as a bartender and car dealer, had DUI convictions in 1998 and 2004 before causing the 2010 crash.
“He's learned his lesson,” Davis said. “If this doesn't do it, I don't know what will.”
Prosecutor Matt Kuhse argued that Corbitt was the “nightmare scenario” — the very reason the Nebraska Legislature enacted laws enhancing the penalty for felony motor vehicle homicide. For drivers with no prior DUIs, the maximum sentence is 20 years. For drivers with a prior DUI, the maximum term increases to 50 years in prison.
Kuhse had pointed out another recent sentence in which a judge gave a driver 17 to 19 years for crashing his pickup truck on the Interstate and killing his passenger. That drunken driver had no prior DUIs and had pleaded guilty to the motor vehicle homicide charge, rather than take the case to trial.
Davis, meanwhile, argued for a wide range — something like 3 to 10 years in prison — to allow for his client's release but still hold a sentence over his head as motivation.
Otepka took issue with both attorneys' suggestions. The judge said a probation officer evaluated Corbitt and deemed him in the “problem risk range” for truthfulness and a high-risk driver. In addition to the sentence, Otepka ordered Corbitt's license to be revoked for 15 years.
Davis said Corbitt lost a brother in a car wreck. He also suffered critical injuries in the 2010 crash — nearly losing a foot.
Meyers said his family is sorting through much deeper wounds.
A 2010 Bellevue East graduate, Amanda Meyers was on the cusp of life. The fun-loving woman was a “great artist who could draw anything,” Meyers said. Amanda left behind three brothers, David, Joe and Bobby, and her parents, Mike and Annette.
Bob Meyers recalled Friday how their extended family had just come together the week before Amanda's death. At that gathering, Meyers' daughter asked him why he didn't call Amanda “Spiddy” anymore. Bob explained that Amanda was grown up now, having graduated from high school.
To which, Amanda told her uncle she didn't mind. “You can call me that all you want,” she said.
“It just fit,” Bob Meyers said. “She had me wrapped around her finger. She was a beautiful girl. She had the best smile and attitude. Just a ton of friends.
“We miss her more than anyone can imagine.”
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