Diane Katz Santarelli, from St. Johns, began serving a 364-day sentence this week, after having been found guilty of hosting an open house party that led to the death of two teens. The sentence was the maximum allowable for the two misdemeanor which Judge Richard O. Watson found her guilty of.
She was originally charged in the manslaughter of 19-year old Jessy Calvin Pitts and 17-year old Taylor Rae Brennan, who were killed in a car accident on the night of January 11, 2009, just after leaving the party hosted at Santarelli’s home. She was found not guilty of those two more serious counts, and was subsequently charged with misdemeanor contributing to the delinquency of a minor and misdemeanor hosting an open house party.
Pitts had been seen at the party doing shots of rum with Santarelli. He later got behind the wheel of his 1991 Thunderbird to drive Brennan home. Deputies initially stated that although friends tried to stop him from diving, Santarelli did not. His blood alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit at the time of his death.
The party wasn’t a one-time event. According to investigators, Santarelli allowed similar parties at her home for a period of about four months, parties where kids had access to alcohol, marijuana, and nitrous oxide.
Judge Watson said about the case that it was “probably the egregious case of contributing to the delinquency of a minor that I have had experience with in my 50 years as a lawyer—and as a judge, public defender, and prosecutor.”
In misdemeanor cases, one year is the maximum allowable sentence. It’s quite rare that someone is sentenced to the maximum. But in this case, the judge obviously thought it was warranted. Though Santarelli didn’t make the kids drink, she had a responsibility as an adult to not provide such substances either. Contributing to the delinquency of a minor is the applicable charge when an adult would provide such substances or otherwise encourage or enable such behaviors.
Florida doesn’t have a specific “social host” law that some other states have that are more specific, and tougher with regard to adult responsibility for teens drinking under their watch. These charges are pretty rare when compared with other alcohol-related charges—DUI, of course, being the most common.
Like Santarelli’s charges, DUI is a misdemeanor. But for a first offense, you will only face up to 180 days in jail, along with probation, fines, driver’s license suspension, community service, DUI school, and the risk of having your vehicle impounded.
Such penalties cannot be taken lightly.
If you are accused of any alcohol related crime, you need someone on your side willing to advocate for your best interests, to work to get you the best results possible on your day in court. Contact our offices today for a consultation on your case.