Victim's family approves probation for drunken driver

FORT WORTH -- Craig Stepina and Rowdylee Short had been best friends since elementary school in Arlington.

Stepina's mother, Melanie, said that except for a couple of years, the boys were always together, including the night of Dec. 6, 2008, when Short was driving Stepina's truck and it crashed into a tree, killing Stepina.

After they buried their 19-year-old son, the Stepinas set out to help Short, then 17.

"We were concerned about Rowdy," Melanie Stepina said. "We knew he was heading down the wrong path. We said, 'If Craig's death is the reason you straighten up, we want to make that happen.'"

It took more than a year, but prosecutor Rebecca McIntire reached a plea agreement with Short and his attorney, Jim Shaw. The Stepinas approved the plea.

On Friday, Short, 19, was sentenced to 10 years' probation after pleading guilty to intoxication manslaughter. The sentence comes with a number of conditions that Stepina hopes will help Short turn his life around.

Criminal District Court No. 4 Judge Mike Thomas ordered Short to serve 120 days in the Tarrant County Jail. With the Stepinas' approval, however, Short will be allowed to leave jail to take the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. He won't, however, be allowed to attend graduation at Martin High School this spring.

Craig Stepina would have graduated from Martin last June 6.

"I'm OK with the TAKS thing. I want him to have his diploma. If he doesn't have a diploma, we're setting him up for more failure," Melanie Stepina said. "But I'm not OK with letting him out to walk across the stage. Rowdy had so many choices. He took that away from Craig."

Stepina said she had hoped the shock of her son's death would make Short stop drinking. When she learned that he was still drinking long after the crash, she was hurt and angry.

Now she is relying on intensive alcohol treatment, alcohol monitoring and other probation conditions to help Short stop drinking.

"As a mom, I want Craig's death to serve a purpose," she said. "If it is an example for other kids to learn from, then his life was for a reason even though it was cut short."

MARTHA DELLER, 817-390-7857