ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – A St. Augustine man officials say is responsible for a deadly wrong-way DUI crash nearly two years ago is scheduled to be sentenced Friday.
Troopers say 33-year-old Michael Rhein was drunk when he crashed into a truck the day after Christmas in 2020.
Three members of an extended family were killed and three others were hurt.
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Last month, Rhein pleaded no contest to three counts of vehicular manslaughter.
From hospital stays to numerous court dates, to racking up more than a million dollars in medical bills, they want to share their story.
They also want to warn people about the dangers of drunk driving, and how it can change lives in a matter of seconds.
Raquel Haralambou was severely injured in a deadly crash that killed her younger brother, Jimmy, who was visiting from Ohio, and her unborn twins.
“It was getting down to crunch time, especially with twins. They usually come early. We were setting up the room, getting the dressers, their cribs, everything like that,” she said.
They had painted the walls pink for their two little girls.
“My brother said, ‘Let me come down.’ He came,” Raquel said.
Raquel, Jimmy and their family had just finished seeing Christmas lights in St. Augustine when Michael Rhein barreled down State Road 207 in his pickup truck with no headlights on, slamming into them, according to investigators, who said Rhein’s blood alcohol level was more than two times the legal limit.
Raquel’s husband, Daniel, who was the driver, and her sister-in-law, Brittany, were also hurt in the crash.
“It’s one of the scariest things I’ve ever had to deal with,” Daniel said. “I feel like I wanted to wake up from a nightmare. When you look at the car and see how demolished it was, you don’t know who’s going to make it and who’s not going to make it.”
Jimmy didn’t make it.
“I’m just trying to wake him up, and I couldn’t wake him up,” Daniel said.
Every day, Raquel deals with physical scars and emotional ones as well.
She spent two months in the ICU, undergoing numerous surgeries. Doctors had to revive her twice.
She also lost the chance to have more children, after doctors had no choice but to give her a full hysterectomy.
“You could be doing the right thing the whole time, and because of somebody doing something, in the blink of an eye, or someone thinking one thing is OK and it’s not, changed our lives forever,” Raquel said.
Raquel and Jimmy’s parents, Elizabeth and Dave Beachy, grieving from their home in Ohio, still make numerous trips to Florida to be there for the only child they have left.
“Dave sat there many a day and just read her the Bible. Just all day long, which was very very touching,” Elizabeth Beachy said.
“For a young lady — I’m sorry, I get emotional — for a young lady to lose her twins that she was so excited about and then to lose any opportunity to have more on top of that — it’s just mind-boggling,” Dave Beachy said.
Raquel is full of emotions as she prepares to face the man who did this.
She and her family will be in court Friday for Rhein’s sentencing hearing.
“I just want to tell him how I feel. I’ve never got to talk to him, so he doesn’t know what he did. He knows in a sense what he did. But he doesn’t know how much he did,” Raquel said.
No longer able to return to her job as a teacher, and dealing with the financial strain the crash caused, Raquel said she somehow finds the strength to keep going.
“When people ask, ‘How do you smile? How do you keep going?’ You have to. Life doesn’t give you a chance to slow down,” she said. “The smile on my daughter’s face is what keeps us going. Every day, knowing that we have to.”
The Haralambous’ daughter, who is now 4, walked away from the crash with just a scratch on her forehead.
The family cannot stress enough, if you plan to drink, please have a plan to get home that does not include you driving.
Rhein is facing up to 45 years in prison. Court records show about a dozen people have sent the judge character reference letters, asking for leniency.
There’s also a civil suit pending in the case.
For the results of Friday’s sentencing hearing, click here.