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Arizona Daily Star
By Kim Smith
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 12.14.2007
A Tucson mother of two was sentenced to three years in prison Thursday for killing a motorcyclist in a head-on collision that her attorney says was caused by an adverse drug reaction.
Amy Lynn Maxwell pleaded guilty last month to manslaughter in the February 2005 death of Philip Wayne Biggers, 45.
Maxwell, 35, struck and killed Biggers while driving west in the eastbound lanes of West Ina Road near North Silverbell Road.
Under the plea agreement, Maxwell was facing probation with one year in jail up to a 12 1/2- year prison sentence.
On Thursday in Pima County Superior Court, Judge Howard Fell listened to lengthy arguments from attorneys on both sides as to what sentence would be appropriate for Maxwell, who has no prior criminal history.
Fell also watched a slide-show presentation about Biggers, put together by his family for use in a civil lawsuit.
Defense attorney Michael Piccarreta told Fell that just days before the crash, Maxwell’s doctor changed her anti-depressant medication from Paxil to Zoloft and prescribed Sonata, a mild sleep aid.
Over the next few days, Maxwell grew increasingly agitated and emotional, Piccarreta said. On the day of the crash, Maxwell had two drinks during a late lunch with her family and argued with her boyfriend.
After arriving home at 3 p.m., Maxwell became hysterical for a time, then decided to go to her sister’s, Piccarreta said.
On the way, Maxwell began crying uncontrollably again and stopped at a convenience store to calm down.
Maxwell recalls buying a six-pack of beer for her sister, opening one and taking a Zoloft and a Sonata, Piccarreta said.
The next thing she remembers is waking up in jail and being told she was charged with second-degree murder, he said.
In a sentencing memorandum to the judge, Piccarreta said she doesn’t remember taking 20 Sonata pills or the many pages of goodbyes she wrote.
He said defense experts agree Maxwell suffered an adverse reaction to the switching of her anti-depressants, both of which are known to cause suicidal thoughts.
Piccarreta urged Fell to place Maxwell on probation, describing her as a loving, caring and selfless woman with two sons, ages 13 and 9, who is devoted to her family.
Deputy Pima County Attorney Casey McGinley said that while it’s clear Maxwell is a loving mother and a genuinely good person, she still deserves to be punished for her actions.
McGinley noted Maxwell’s blood-alcohol level after the crash was 0.079, just below the legal limit. Experts for the defense insist it was even lower, but they tested the blood more than a year after the crash, McGinley said.
“The state firmly believes this case comes down to Amy Maxwell’s decision to get behind the wheel in the condition she was in,” McGinley said.
When given the chance to speak to the judge, Maxwell instead turned to the courtroom packed with Biggers’ relatives and her own and said she was prepared to face whatever her sentence was.
“Not a day goes by where I don’t think of and pray for your family,” Maxwell said, looking at Biggers’ parents, Ed and Joan. “I just don’t have the words to express how sorry I am.”
Biggers was described by various friends and family members as a free-spirited man who loved his family and urged people to question everything. A deeply spiritual man, he also taught others to see beyond appearances and seek out people’s souls, they said.
His sister, Deborah Weiss, said he was a Renaissance man who could easily identify artists and their works, but also quote lines from the animated TV show “SpongeBob SquarePants.”
Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or firstname.lastname@example.org.