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St. Johns County Manslaughter Trial to Begin for Party House Mom

Posted on May 18, 2010

Jury selection is set to begin Monday, May 17th in the felony manslaughter trial of Diane Katz Santarelli of St. John, Florida. The St. Augustine Record reports that she faces two counts of manslaughter for the deaths of two teens who died in a fiery car collision in Florida after leaving a drinking party at her house in January 2009. Santarelli, 52, and a mother, is facing second-degree felony charges, punishable up to 15 years in prison.

This is the first time someone has been charged in Florida with manslaughter for holding a house party with underage teens who later died. A grand jury indicted Santarelli on seven counts of holding teen parties over a period of four months. Santarelli, is also facing a second-degree misdemeanor for holding an open house party and contributing to the delinquency of a minor, which is a first-degree misdemeanor.

On January 11, 2009, Jesse Calvin Pitts, 18 had fallen asleep at the Santarelli home after he had been drinking. His friend Taylor Rae Brennan, 17, asked for a ride home, but three miles down the road he crashes his 1991 Ford Thunderbird off State Road 13 near Orangedale, hit a guardrail, then some trees. Both teens died. Pitts’ blood alcohol level was more than twice over the legal intoxication level (0.08) at .18.

Santarelli’s attorney says this is the first time these charges have been filed in Florida because there is no precedent to stop someone from leaving if they have been drinking. State law calls “hosting parties” in which children obtain alcohol, a second-degree misdemeanor.

This year, the Florida Legislature tried to pass a bill that would toughen the law on hosting house parties for underage drinkers, but time ran out. So for Santarelli and other parents, promoting what became a “chain of events” that “allowed” or “encouraged” the teens to drink alcohol and smoke marijuana, is the basis of the charge. While it’s emotionally charged, the law is not there to support the charge. Not yet. If your child has been injured in a car accident, whether following a private party or not, a St. Augustine personal injury attorney can help you sort out the facts of the case in order to determine liability of the at-fault party.