An 18-year-old passenger who caused a fatal crash by pulling on the steering wheel pleaded guilty to DUI manslaughter after prosecutors discovered a confession on his online blog.
Blake Ranking wrote "I did it" on his blurty.com journal three days after the October 2004 crash that caused a friend's death and left another seriously injured. He had previously told investigators he remembered nothing of the crash and little of its aftermath.
Blake was sitting in the back seat as he and then-17-year-old friends Jason Coker and Nicole Robinette left a party when he pulled the steering wheel as a prank, causing the car to somersault off the road.
His blood alcohol content after the crash measured 0.185, more than double the legal limit.
Robinette, who was driving and had no traces of drugs or alcohol in her system, was seriously injured. Coker lay in a coma at Orlando Regional Medical Center until he died Jan. 11.
"It was me who caused it. I turned the wheel. I turned the wheel that sent us off the road, into the concrete drain ..." Ranking wrote in the blog. "How can I be fine when everyone else is so messed up?"
Ranking later retracted his words, deleting them from the blog and penning an explanation.
"People say I 'contradict' myself since I 'already admitting pulling the wheel.' I didn't 'ADMIT' anything. I went on a guilt trip, and I posted the story that I WAS TOLD . . . Nicole told me I pulled the wheel, I believed her," he wrote.
Still, the confession forced him to lead guilty Monday to manslaughter charges. He could have gotten 15 years in prison, but defense lawyer John Spivey and Assistant State Attorney Julie Greenberg recommended five years in prison, 10 years of probation and a permanent license suspension.
Circuit Judge Mark Hill agreed to impose the sentence Dec. 28.
Greenberg said she had planned to use the blog as evidence, a first for the office covering Lake, Citrus, Hernando, Marion and Sumter counties, but almost certainly not the last.
"Anytime a defendant confesses, that is very relevant and important," she said.
Ranking posted the lyrics to Eric Clapton's "Tears in Heaven" the day of Coker's funeral, but prosecutors said his remorse was not always apparent in his blogs, which included entries railing at Coker's mother because she asked him to stop calling and coming to the hospital.
"He lost the best friend he ever had," Spivey said in Ranking's defense.
Ken Coker, Jason's father, said his family never wanted prison time for Ranking, but they wished Ranking would stop writing about them because they felt the blog was insensitive. He said Ranking would benefit more from psychiatric counseling.
"There's not enough forgiveness in the world," he said.