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Gerdes sentenced in death of woman mowing lawn

Kayla Gerdes is taken to Nassau County Court

Kayla Gerdes is taken to Nassau County Court for sentencing in the death of Rebecca Twine, whom she ran down while driving under the influence of drugs two years ago. (July 10, 2012) Credit: Newsday / Karen Wiles Stabile

A sobbing Kayla Gerdes apologized in court Tuesday to the son of a woman she killed while driving under the influence of drugs two years ago, saying she would never forget the Hempstead physician who was run over while mowing her lawn.

"If I could trade my life to give your mother back her life, I really would," Gerdes told Rebecca Twine's son, Chauncey Twine, 33, moments before Judge John Kase sentenced her to 3 to 9 years in prison on second-degree manslaughter charges.

But Chauncey Twine sat with his face deliberately turned away from her.

"She didn't deserve my respect, or an acknowledgment of her apology," Twine told reporters after the proceeding.

Gerdes, 20, of Freeport, admitted to taking Xanax, marijuana and oxycodone before the van she was driving barreled across the lawn of 69-year-old Twine's home on April 20, 2010, and ran her down as she mowed the grass.

Prosecutors had asked for 5 to 15 years, the statutory maximum on the 30-count indictment's top charge of second-degree manslaughter.

But Gerdes' guilty plea to the entire indictment -- which includes charges of operating a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs, drug possession, having stolen prescription sheets and reckless driving -- gave Kase sole discretion to punish her.

With credit for the two years of jail time she has already served, Gerdes is expected to be freed in about four years, under parole conditions, court spokesman Daniel Bagnuola said after she pleaded guilty in April.

Kase, the supervising judge of Nassau County criminal court, said the deal guarantees Gerdes will serve prison time and avoids a projected two-month trial with the prospect an appellate court would reverse a 5-to-15-year maximum sentence as excessive. He also said it would spare the Twine family "the agony of daily press reminders of this tragedy."

In court Tuesday, Gerdes apologized for comments she made to police after the crash, including her written statement to police in which she was quoted as saying: "The thing that made me not feel so bad was that she was old."

Her attorney, John Lewis of Farmingdale, said that statement was taken out of context.

"The person I am is not the person the media has portrayed me to be," Gerdes said.

Chauncey Twine said he would have preferred the case go to trial and said he asked the judge in his chambers not to accept the plea bargain.

Gerdes, who had a learner's permit, said she took the wheel from Brian Steele of Oceanside, because he also was high. Lost and speeding, Gerdes said the van jumped the curb and crashed into Twine as she mowed the lawn of her Cathedral Drive home.

Steele pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide and was sentenced to six months in jail in May.

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