YULEE, Fla. – The man convicted of getting behind the wheel drunk and driving the wrong way when he caused a crash that killed Ryan Kennedy, 21, Bailey McKnight, 22, and their unborn child three years ago was sentenced Monday to 60 years in prison.
A Nassau County jury had convicted Shawn Blitchington, 48, of DUI manslaughter, leaving the scene of a crash involving death and driving on a permanently revoked driver’s license.
Addressing Blitchington, Circuit Judge James Daniel said: “When you decided upon your own free will to drink alcohol to excess on July 22, 2018, and to get behind the wheel of your truck and proceed to drive the roads of Nassau County, you became a force of destruction with the power to bring indescribable devastation to whoever was unlucky enough to come across your path that evening.”
Ryan Kennedy and Bailey McKnight’s mothers gave impact statements before Daniel announced the sentence.
Susy Kennedy said she feels like she died that night but they forgot to bury her body. She added that all future cherished moments were stolen when her daughter was killed. She never got to plan a wedding or babysit their unborn grandson, Lawson.
“July 21st is now the worst day of my life. Not only lost my child but the girl he loved -- the girl he would marry and stole his heart,” said Ryan Kennedy’s mother, Susy. “We loved her and her 3-year-old son, Haden. Our family was growing. Lawson Kennedy had a name. He had a heartbeat.”
Haden is being raised by his McKnight’s mother, Misty, who is regularly asked, “Are you sure mama is not coming home?” She said her grandson has trouble eating and in school since the loss of his mother.
Blitchington read an apology letter to the victims’ families, saying he’s physically sick from the grief because of his actions and poor decisions. He also said he had a constant struggle with alcohol.
“I am very sorry. It has caused great pain and suffering. There’s nothing I can do to fix this,” he said.
Blitchington’s older brother took the stand in addition to other family members, writing letters to offer their apologies and talking about how alcoholism runs in their family.
Blitchington’s attorney asked for the judge to show mercy with a 32½ year sentence and treatment to follow.
State prosecutors had asked for a life sentence, saying Blitchington is a danger to the community who kept driving after five previous DUI arrests and having his license revoked.
Daniel said that even with good behavior, Blitchington will remain behind bars past his 90th birthday.
Investigators said Blitchington was driving drunk and the wrong way on U.S. 301 in 2018 when he hit the couple’s car as they were heading home from Kennedy’s birthday dinner. He ran away, hiding for hours in a ditch until deputies found him.
Three crosses were placed at the site in memory of Kennedy, McKnight and their unborn child in Bryceville.
Records show Blitchington wasn’t allowed to be driving. Before this crash, he had five driving under the influence arrests and a revoked license.