Prison sentence for Christian Garner’s homicide at Community Maritime Park
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Prison sentence for Christian Garner’s homicide at Community Maritime Park

Prison sentence for Christian Garner’s homicide at Community Maritime Park

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The 22-year-old Pensacola man charged in the 2022 vehicular homicide of Christian Garner was sentenced to nearly a year in Escambia County jail Tuesday afternoon, avoiding the maximum 15-year prison sentence.

Joseph Squirewell accepted a plea deal in February to a vehicular manslaughter charge in exchange for dropping his involuntary manslaughter charge after causing the death of Garner, 18, while towing him on an inner tube at Community Maritime Park.

Judge Coleman Robinson sentenced Squirewell to 364 days in jail followed by 14 years of probation, and his driver’s license will be revoked for five years. According to court documents, the 22-year-old’s attorney reserved the right to appeal Robinson’s denial of their motion to drop the charges.

Squirewell was booked into the Escambia County Jail at 5:51 p.m. Tuesday.

What happened to Christian Garner on April 30, 2022?

on April 30, 2022, Squirewell joined Garner and some friends at a retention pond near the Blue Wahoos Stadium and Community Marine Park where they would ride across a retention pond on an inner tube pulled by a truck.

In the April 30 incident, security cameras at Community Maritime Park and City Hall captured footage of Squirewell driving his Ford Ranger pickup truck “in a manner that he knew was reckless and likely to cause serious bodily injury or death and which did in fact result in the death of Christian Garner,” according to Squirewell’s arrest report.

According to the report, Squirewell allegedly made “donuts” and nearly ran over a person in a parking lot.

Detectives then observed Squirewell’s van back up to the edge of the roadway adjacent to the pond, and Garner entered the water with an inflatable inner tube strapped to the back of the truck.

Squirewell then sped off in his van, pulling the inner tube through the water, out of the water, down a nearby embankment and into a parking lot.

“The truck appeared to accelerate rapidly and continued to do so to the point where the inner tube was removed from the water,” the report states. “It appears that Garner was ejected from the inner tube as it exited the water and struck the grassy embankment.”

Garner suffered head and neck trauma and was pronounced deceased at the scene.

Joseph Squirewell and his lawyer ask judge to drop charges

In December 2023, Cromey and Assistant District Attorney Matt Gordon had a hearing before Robinson where the defense argued that Squirewell’s charges should be dismissed since Garner knowingly participated in the act, thus preventing his client from being culpably negligent.

Cromey cited a judge’s opinion that “people often come together to engage in reckless behavior. As long as all participants do so willingly and voluntarily, I see no reason to hold survivors guilty of involuntary manslaughter when the reckless behavior results in death.”

“So we are of the view that we are indeed dealing with a participant who has deliberately engaged in reckless conduct,” Mr. Cromey said. “That is the fundamental legal premise of the argument.”

Gordon, however, refuted Cromey’s argument and told the judge that Squirewell’s case was not a proximate cause case, meaning that the defendant caused the death rather than the victim causing his own death. He said the cases Cromey was referring to involved people who, through negligence, committed suicide, but Gordon said that in this case, Squirewell’s negligence killed Garner.

“The defense is arguing that both parties are equally liable, and I don’t agree with that. It’s not equal liability,” Gordon told the court. “Mr. Squirewell had the engine, the tool that propelled (Garner), and Mr. Garner was completely at his mercy.”

Robinson denied the motion to dismiss, concluding that the evidence did not demonstrate that Garner was the proximate cause of his own death, and that the jury, as the trier of fact, should be the one to determine whether Squirewell’s negligence was criminal.

Why did Joseph Squirewell avoid prison?

After the motion to dismiss the hearing, Cromey and Gordon both told Robinson that they planned to avoid trial, with Gordon stating that he would offer Squirewell a reduced sentence rather than face the maximum 15-year prison term.

Under Florida law, a downward departure allows a judge to sentence a defendant to less than the statutory minimum sentence, and it is only allowed if there are “circumstances or factors that reasonably justify the downward departure.”

After the hearing, Gordon told the judge he believed there were mitigating circumstances that warranted a reduced sentence. Robinson appeared to agree with the mitigating circumstances and imposed a prison sentence rather than a jail term.