TAMPA, Fla. — 50 years in prison. That was the sentence handed down Tuesday for a 31-year-old woman who was at the wheel during a fiery crash along the Selmon Expressway in 2017.
Investigators say Amber Perera was intoxicated when she caused a chain-reaction wreck that killed three members of the Felipak family. Perera was driving on the Selmon Expressway when she hit Luiz Felipak, his wife Rita and their 8-year-old daughter, Giorgia.
She pleaded guilty to driving under the influence during the fiery, wrong-way crash.
Perera lost control of her car, hit the Felipak's car and sent it into the westbound lanes, where it was hit by two other cars and burst into flames. Police said Perera kept driving and was arrested later after her car couldn't go any further because of damage.
At first, it was thought Perera claimed she suffered from a seizure, but she was later charged with DUI manslaughter, DUI with serious bodily injury, leaving the scene of a crash involving death and destruction of evidence.
Investigators say she’d been drinking and was driving her car at speeds of over a hundred miles an hour before the crash.
The sad case could ultimately make it safer for others traveling that same stretch of road.
Perera wiped away tears just before Circuit Judge Christopher Sabella sentenced the 31-year-old to five decades behind bars - the price for causing a fiery wreck that killed Gus, Rita and 8-year old Giorgia Felipak.
“I hope God has mercy on your soul, but you deserve every bit of consequence that you got,” said Tracy Lee Kelly after the sentencing.
Kelly survived the same crossover collision along the Selmon Expressway in South Tampa where a marker with the Felipak family’s image sits at the side of the road. A reminder of what was lost.
“The Filapek family had the life taken from them,” said Kelly. “I wanted her to hear the word life and have it ripped from her.”
The deadly wreck that killed the Felipak family was one of several crossover accidents that occurred in rapid succession.
It convinced the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority that it was time to consider installing a center median wall, which is now under construction.
“This is just an opportunity to get something done pretty quick and get something up there for the safety,” said THEA Spokesperson Sue Chrzan.
Lee Peppin, a truck driver who uses the expressway often says he’s glad the improvements are underway. But saddened by the loss that led up to it.
“Well, usually that’s what it takes, is a couple of tragedies for them to fix it. Right?” he asked.
“I think it just helps add a form of safety for all of the craziness of the traffic that’s going on,” said Heather Boyd, who drives the same portion of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway each day.
Construction of the center median barrier is expected to take about 10 months, with a price tag of $25 million.
But the cost – has been far greater than that.
“Yes ma’am, your life is ruined,” Circuit Judge Christopher Sabella told Perera during sentencing. “But you also ruined a lot of lives and ended three lives.”
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