A 91-year-old Villager was sentenced to five years in prison Tuesday after she pleaded guilty to hitting two bicyclists with her Mercedes and fleeing the scene.
Marilyn Hamilton, of the Village of Gilchrist, was taken into custody shortly after her sentence was handed down by Judge Don Briggs in Sumter County Court. Hamilton was behind the wheel of a white Mercedes on Oct. 30, 2020, when she struck Village of Dunedin residents Jessica Laube and Robert Hunter while they were pedaling on Morse Boulevard near Bonita Boulevard.
Witnesses told the Florida Highway Patrol that Hamilton got out of her vehicle, saw the husband and wife crumpled in the road, got back into her car and drove away. The vehicle was later recovered at the Mercedes dealership in Gainesville, where it was being repaired.
While delivering the sentence, Judge Briggs emphasized that Hamilton’s biggest legal problem wasn’t the crash itself, but the fact she left the scene.
“The impact of what you did is felt by (the victims), but what happened afterward is what impacts you,” he said. “If you had stayed, things would have been much different for you. No sentence I could impose would restore Mr. Hunter and Ms. Laube to their prior condition. This is punitive.”
In addition to two concurrent 60-month sentences for leaving the scene of a crash involving a serious injury to a vulnerable road user, Hamilton faces an additional five years of probation. She also must pay restitution, the amount of which will be determined at a future hearing, and her driving privilege is revoked. Civil litigation is also under way.
Before rendering the sentence, Briggs listened to victim impact statements delivered by Hunter and pleas for leniency from Hamilton and her attorney.
Speaking for himself, Hunter said he wondered three things:
1) How Hamilton couldn’t have seen him and Laube on a sunny afternoon while they were wearing reflective clothing and had bright flashing lights on their bicycle.
2) Whether Hamilton was under the influence of something.
3) What Hamilton told the Mercedes dealership about the damage to her vehicle.
Hunter also talked about the physical injuries he has mostly recovered from and the brain injuries that he is still dealing with.
“It’s harder to think, walk, and talk,” he said. “Tasks that used to be easy are now a challenge. I feel anxiety when I ride.”
Hunter then read a statement from his wife, who was unable to attend the hearing. Laube – who suffered 17 broken ribs, a collapsed lung, paralyzed vocal chord, broken arm, broken wrist, torn finger tendons and ligaments and brain injuries – wrote about how her life will never be the same and said Hamilton needed to be punished for her actions.
“She’s a heartless monster who only thinks of herself,” Laube wrote. “She’s been allowed to get away with this for more than two years.”
Given a chance to address the judge, Hamilton recounted her version of what happened on the day of the crash. She said she was suffering from hip pain and had been to the Winn-Dixie pharmacy to pick up her medication and had physical therapy. She said as she headed home on Morse Boulevard, a truck was pulling a trailer ahead of her, and the trailer kept drifting in and out of her lane. Hamilton said she was focused on avoiding the trailer when she came upon the cyclists and was unable to stop in time.
“I was so traumatized. My hip was hurting and all I could think of was getting home,” she said. “If I could revisit that day, I would have never left home. I pray for them every day, and I am so sorry.”
Hamilton’s attorney, Joshua Houston, asked the judge to impose a punishment that would allow his client to go to California, where her children are, and enter assisted living. He pointed out Hamilton was never in trouble before and that she has been remorseful. Houston admitted there was no excuse for Hamilton leaving the scene, but he asked for leniency based on her age and circumstances.
“Her license is already revoked for life, and she has no intention of ever operating a motor vehicle again,” he said. “Her husband died in 2016 and she’s been on her own since then. This was a tragic accident for all involved.”
Hunter and Laube are part of the Sumter Landing Bicycle Club, and about a dozen fellow members were in the courtroom to hear the plea and sentence. The group had gone on record urging that Hamilton not be given a slap on the wrist. They believed prison time was in order. Afterward, in the hall outside the chamber, there were hugs and tears of relief.
Hamilton was joined in court by just one friend who drove her from The Villages. When the sentence was imposed, her attorney asked if she could have some time to get her affairs in order before going to prison. The request was denied, and Hamilton slowly walked with her cane out of the courtroom and into state custody. Meanwhile, her friend drove home alone.