May 23, 2018 was a truly awful day for two families. A family lost a young mother and her toddler who died after being struck by a car on Bayshore Boulevard. Another family figuratively lost their son after he hit and killed the woman and her daughter.
Cameron Herrin, the 18-year-old speeding driver who struck and killed Jessica Reisinger-Raubenolt and her 1-year-old daughter, was sentenced to 24 years in prison after pleading guilty to vehicular manslaughter charges.
Now, more than three years later, Herrin’s family is trying to get some of their life back with their son. Is it fair? And, is it possible?
On a spring day, Reisinger-Raubenolt took her daughter for a walk on Bayshore Boulevard. They two were in town visiting family.
Around the same time, Herrin and his friend, 17-year-old John Barineau, were on their way to a local gym. Herrin had just graduated from Tampa Catholic High School two days earlier and was driving a new Ford Mustang, his graduation gift. Barineau was driving near him in his Nissan Altima. The two decided to race.
Traveling north from Gandy Boulevard up Bayshore Boulevard toward downtown, the two cars raced, moving in and out of traffic lanes to pass cars, according to witnesses. The Mustang’s Infotainment system would later show that the car reached 102 mph.
As the cars approached Reisinger-Raubenolt and her daughter, witnesses say the Nissan swerved to miss them. The Mustang moved to avoid the Nissan and hit the mother and daughter.
While the Mustang slowed down to about 30 and 40 mph just before the collision, it struck Reisinger-Raubenolt and her daughter. The mother died on impact, and the toddler died the next day from her injuries.
Barineau and Herrin were facing a trial when both decided to plead guilty to the charges against them.
Barineau, the driver of the Nissan, worked with the state on a plea deal. He pled guilty to two vehicular homicide charges and a misdemeanor racing charge in exchange for a six-year sentence with 15 years of probation.
Herrin, the driver responsible for striking and killing the mother and daughter, also pled guilty to two vehicular homicide charges and a misdemeanor racing charge. But, he agreed to an open plea, which put his sentencing in the judge’s hand.
State guidelines suggest a minimum of 18-and-a-half years for the charges against Herrin. The family of the victims asked for the maximum 30-year sentence.
Herrin was sentenced to 24 years, nine years for the mother’s death and 15 for the child’s death to be served consecutively.
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Christopher Nash made the decision after a day of testimony from both Herrin’s and Reisinger-Raubenolt’s family and friends.
Herrin’s defense team argued that Herrin should receive a sentence similar to Barineau, who they believe was equally culpable for the accident. But, the judge gave extra weight to Herrin’s sentencing due to the fact that Herrin was the one who hit the victims and that Herrin had a history of speeding and racing.
Herrin’s car navigation system has recently recorded a speed of 162 mph on Interstate 75 and a speed of 84 mph on Bayshore in the weeks leading up to the accident, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Herrin’s defense team was quick to start the appeal process. They believe Herrin was unfairly sentenced and are taking up a legal challenge. In December, Herrin’s legal team completed the full briefing process, and both the state and the defense have now submitted written arguments to the 2nd District Court of Appeal.
The appeal process begins in the wake of a large and somewhat unusual internet campaign to support Herrin. Content promoting “justice for Cameron” has been seen across Twitter and TikTok. TikTok videos featuring the tag “Cameron Herrin” have been viewed over 2.4 billion times.
Experts believe some of the support is from real people across the world. Herrin’s mother says she receives calls and letters from supporters. But, experts also believe that some of the social media content is produced by international bots, as reported by the Tampa Bay Times.
Herrin’s family and defense team say they have no connection with the outpouring of social media content. But, they are still fighting to get their version of justice for Herrin. Their appeal brief states, “Certainly Cameron deserves to be punished for his role in this horrible case. But what purpose is served by imprisoning this young man for the next twenty-plus years of his life?”
The state plans to fight against a sentence reduction. They believe the sentence is fair for the crime.
In the upcoming months, a three-judge panel will meet to decide whether or not the judge abused his discretion and if there is a legal basis for a trial court to redo Herrin’s sentence. Herrin’s fate will be in their hands.
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In cases like this, there are no winners. A terrible accident devastated two families, and the courts are left to determine which is the best way to provide justice.
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