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Woman who killed her passenger, Florida police officer while drunk driving is sentenced

Fort Lauderdale Police Detective Christopher Sheehan’s portrait is displayed at his funeral at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale on Aug. 26, 2016. Sheehan, 30, died early Saturday in a fiery crash when his Jeep was rear-ended, Coral Springs police said. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel file)

A Plantation woman was sentenced Monday to more than 16 years in prison after admitting she caused the fiery crash that killed Fort Lauderdale Police Officer Christopher Sheehan.

Sheehan, 30, was driving a Jeep Wrangler northbound on State Road 7 in Coral Springs on Aug. 20, 2016, when a speeding pink Dodge Challenger driven by Joselyn Lopez struck him from behind.

Sheehan’s passenger, paramedic Jacob Snowhite, was able to escape the vehicle but could not rescue his friend. According to court records, Sheehan was alive and aware of his predicament as rescuers failed to get to him in time.

“Civilian witnesses and officers on scene all describe how Sheehan was trapped and calling out for help,” prosecutors said in a memo opposing a lenient sentence for Lopez.

A ruptured fuel line caused the Jeep to become engulfed in flames, killing Sheehan. Snowhite also suffered multiple physical injuries.

Lopez pleaded no contest on Aug. 31 to vehicular homicide, DUI manslaughter, reckless driving and DUI with serious bodily injury. She faced a likely maximum of 30 years in prison. Through a no-contest plea, a defendant accepts the conviction and the sentence without formally admitting guilt.

Through her lawyer, Lopez threw herself on the mercy of Broward Circuit Judge Michael Usan, but prosecutors asked for a severe sentence, pointing to the horror of Sheehan’s last moments and the lasting effects of the crash on Snowhite.

Sheehan was due to be married two months after the crash, prosecutors said. He was the son and nephew of two retired members of Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue and had been on the police force for seven years.

Snowhite suffered traumatic brain injury and damage to his spine.

Investigators determined Sheehan’s Jeep was traveling about 12 mph when it was struck by Lopez’s Challenger moving about 75 mph, which was 30 mph above the speed limit.

Blood samples taken more than two hours later showed Lopez with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent, an indicator she was above the legal limit at the time of the crash.

While he did not grant the mercy sought by the defense, Usan sentenced Lopez to 16 years and four months in prison, the lowest permissible punishment under legal guidelines. Her prison sentence will be followed by 10 years of probation.

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