Teen pleads guilty, gets 5 years probation for girl’s death in Pinellas County boating crash

Pinellas County

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — A Pinellas County teen got five years probation after pleading guilty to vessel homicide Monday morning.

Gavin Johnston told a Pinellas County judge he is truly sorry for his actions on November 1, 2020. He was behind the wheel of his parent’s boat on the intracoastal waterway, speeding, when he hit a channel marker..

One of his six passengers, 16-year old Rachel Herring, was thrown from the boat and died.

Investigators say speed was a contributing factor to the crash, but neither alcohol nor drugs were.

Johnston, who is now 17-years old, pleaded guilty to a vessel manslaughter charge. He read an apology letter to the court and to Herring’s family members and loved ones.

“I’m so sorry my actions have led to the death of Rachel Herring,” Johnston read from the prepared statement. “What I can say is that I will work hard, very hard, that everyone that I encounter through my journey knows about Rachel. “

Johnston went on to say there isn’t a day he doesn’t think about what happened.

“Losing Rachel has been the most tragic experience that I have ever had,” said Johnston. “At times, I feel paralyzed by fear of the unknown, while also being frustrated by my inability to communicate my feelings to Rachel’s family.”

Stephen Page, a spokesman for Rachel’s family, told the court he didn’t believe Gavin’s words were sincere.

“Does your family own this, did you apologize? No, not till just today. Do you or your family show even a tiny bit of remorse? No,” Page said. “You know what’s even worse than no remorse? Having your family spread lies or the narrative that because of your great judgement only one person was killed. “

The judge sentenced Johnston to five years of probation with a number of stipulations, including no use of alcohol until he is 21-years old. Judge Joseph Bulone warned Johnston if he is caught using alcohol, he would be back in court.

“If anyone ever catches you with alcohol, it’s going to be a violation of your probation, and as I said before you could get up to 15 years,” Bulone said.

Kevin Hayslett represented Johnston at the sentencing and explained that defendants are limited in what they can do while a criminal charge is pending, but simply saying I’m sorry or sending flowers to a victim’s family could change the course of a case.

He said his client truly is sorry.

“I can tell you the entire Johnston family was moved. Gavin was incredibly remorseful,” Hayslett said. “Things that people don’t know is that Gavin has done almost a hundred hours of community service. He did a CPR class. He got a boating class, I mean he went around the county, and he went to memorials where young people had been killed.”

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