Two years after Norman Mello was killed while riding his motorcycle in Miami, his relatives Wednesday extended grace to the young woman who caused his death.
They blessed a plea deal for Clarissa Vargas, who will serve only two years in prison for killing Mello as she drove drunk on Interstate 95 in Miami in July 2014.
The act of forgiveness had special meaning for his family – Norman Mello was close to celebrating 13 years sober when he was killed by the drunk driver.
“In all our years of drinking and driving, it could have been us,” said Scott Mello, Norman’s brother, himself a recovering alcoholic.
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Vargas, 24, accepted the plea deal for the DUI manslaughter conviction on Wednesday in Miami-Dade criminal court. Normally, the charge normally carries a mandatory minimum sentence of four years in state prison. She’ll also have to serve two years of house arrest and six years of probation.
“There are no winners. We were fortunate to to resolve the case in a manner that will allow Clarissa to live a productive life going forward,” said her attorney, Daniel Lurvey. “This was due in large part to the extraordinary compassion of the next of kin of Norman Mello.”
Norman Mello, 42, was a lift operator at the Lauderdale Marine Center who also enjoyed boats, dogs and rebuilding antique cars with his older brother. His death drew hundreds to a memorial at a weekly car show in Davie, an event Mello attended regularly for a decade.
Like his brother, Mello was a motorcycle enthusiast who was riding his Yamaha bike to South Beach to meet up with buddies on the night of July 19, 2014. That night, Vargas was driving her Acura TL north on the southbound lanes of Interstate 95, not far from the interchange with the Dolphin Expressway. She hit Mello with such force that his bike lodged into the passenger compartment of her car.
A blood test showed she was drunk by more than double the legal limit. Vargas also suffered major injuries in the crash.
Vargas reached out to the Mello family recently to apologize. Norman Mello, his brother believes, would have wanted to give her a second chance.
“Two families have been destroyed,” said Scott Mello. “No amount of jail time is gonna fix Clarissa.’’