BRADENTON -- A 21-year-old Bradenton woman who stole a car from a Bradenton car wash, then led deputies on a chase during which she struck and killed a bicylist, was sentenced Tuesday to 30 years in prison.
Tippy McCullough entered a plea of no contest on Nov. 10 to charges of grand theft auto, aggravated fleeing or eluding law enforcement officers, resisting arrest without violence, driving with a suspended license, leaving the scene of a crash with death and vehicular homicide.
On March 10, McCullough stole a Cadillac from the Blue Dolphin Car Wash, 505 Cortez Road W. She then fled south to 57th Avenue East and headed east before turning onto 15th Street East.
As she approached U.S. 301, she jumped the median to avoid traffic and headed north. The vehicle hit Librado Perez-Leon as she was turning.
Some deputies continued the pursuit, while others stayed with Perez-Leon. The Cadillac was finally stopped with the use of stop sticks in the 2400 block of 15th Street East.
Perez-Leon, 61, died a few days later as a result of the head injury he suffered in the crash.
On Tuesday, Circuit Judge Deno Economou listened to the testimony of Manatee County Sheriff's Office deputies involved in the pursuit, McCullough's family and a brief of apology from McCullough.
"It is a tragedy. Ms. McCullough has supportive family that cares for and loves her, there's no doubt about that," Economou said. "But here is what separates it... His name is Librado Perez."
Economou went on to affirm what Assistant State Attorney Justin Phillips said about knowing little about the victim since he had no family who lived locally.
"We do know this man had a family, he had a name and he had a right to live," Economou said. "He did nothing wrong that day. ... He had a name. He had a face. He was a human being and you took his life."
Deputy Matthew Schwartz was among those who took the stand for the state, recounting what McCullough told him after she was arrested and had her rights read to her.
McCullough had just left jail on similar charges that included grand theft auto and leaving the scene of a crash. She met up with someone and went to the Blue Dolphin Car Wash with the intent of stealing a car, he said.
"She informed that she selected the vehicle because she liked the color," Schwartz said. "She informed that she took an unknown amount of Mollies," referring to a type of narcotics.
McCullough had intentionally struck a sheriff's K9 vehicle, he added, but she did not seem to know she had hit anyone.
"She informed me she didn't want to go back to jail and she wanted to keep riding," Schwartz said.
McCullough's mother told the court that her daughter suffered from mental illness and that she had her hospitalized under the Baker Act a couple weeks earlier.
"With Tippy's mental illness and drugs, they don't mix well," she said.
When her daughter came to her house after her previous arrest, it was clear she was on drugs and was walking down the street naked.
"I know she didn't try to kill that man," she said. "It was an accident, that's all it was."
After Economou's ruling, McCullough's family became emotional and then outraged, and were told to leave the courtroom. Several deputies and detectives stood by as they got in the elevator screaming profanities and insults.
Included in McCullough's plea and sentencing was a charge of battery on a detained person for an unrelated charge she received during her incarceration at the Manatee County jail.
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter@JDeLeon1012.