'A terrible mistake': JTA bus driver sentenced to seven years in prison for dragging passenger to her death
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A former Jacksonville Transportation Authority bus driver accused of dragging a passenger to her death received a seven-year prison sentence Friday.
Jean Silney, 55, had previously pleaded guilty in the death of 50-year-old Jeannie Rozar. She died in June 2019 after getting her arm caught in Silney’s bus door, before getting trapped in and crushed by its wheels.
“I am not a monster, not a killer, not a criminal,” Silney told the judge. “I am just a regular guy who made a terrible mistake that cost someone their life, and for that I am terribly sorry.”
More than a dozen friends and family members showed up in support of Silney, including eight who spoke on his behalf. Rozar’s family was not in court. Prosecutors noted her mother recently died; her daughter, who was 12 at the time of the accident, was not present. An attorney representing the family asked for a prison sentence of at least 10 years. He also said the family had “resolved all matters” with JTA.
“I wish Ms. Rozar’s family was here today,” Silney testified. “I was ready to express the way I feel about their loss. In a split-second decision, I took their mom, their daughter’s life. I am deeply sorry. It was a mistake I will regret for the rest of my life.”
Video from the incident showed Silney and Rozar arguing about the bus schedule. Silney told Rozar he was going to put her off the bus if she continued to curse. When she stepped off the bus, he pulled the door shut and quickly pulled away. Rozar, who had stuck her arm into the closing door, was trapped and dragged until she was entangled in the bus wheels and crushed. Police found her body in the roadway in the 4500 block of Ocean Street in the Mayport, a block from where she worked at Safe Harbor Seafood.
JTA fired Silney immediately, but because Rozar’s death was initially deemed an accident, he wasn’t arrested until October 2019. He was initially charged with felony manslaughter and vehicular homicide and served five months in jail before being released on bond. In February, he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter, a second-degree felony punishable up to 15 years in prison and a 10,000 fine.
“My heart breaks for the Rozar family,” Silney’s wife, Marie, told Circuit Judge Meredith Charbula. “I am sorry for their loss. May God bless her soul.”
Marie Silney told the judge the couple has known each other since they were 6-year-old children in Haiti, and said having her husband in prison would be a tremendous hardship for their two sons, ages 15 and 16. “I ask you to have mercy on my husband and allow him to be home to continue to provide for his family,” she said.
“My husband made a terrible mistake … that is undeniable,” she said. “But that is an accident, your honor. He did not mean to hurt the victim. He has never been in trouble with the law in his entire life. That was a split-second decision that changed the lives of two families.”
Several speakers spoke about how difficult it was for Silney’s two boys when he was incarcerated for five months following his arrest, saying their grades and mental well-being suffered.
Silney’s younger brother, who spells his name Sylne, also testified. “My brother has been devastated, words cannot begin to express his remorse,” Vladimir Sylne said. “My brother is not a reckless and thoughtless man, your honor. He is a good man. He is a gentleman. He is the best man I know.” At that point, Sylne was overcome and took several moments to regain his composure.
Another younger brother, Rio Sylne, told the judge his brother was the best father he knew. “I am a very prideful man, but today I am begging you,” he said. “Please send my brother home.”
Silney had a history of disciplinary infractions with JTA and was actually fired in January 2019 for “conduct unbecoming,” but was rehired after the bus drivers’ union appealed. Records from the incident show he almost ran over a supervisor’s foot with his bus when the two were arguing about his bus schedule running early.
Assistant State Attorney Joel Cooper presented five video clips, including two from the December 2018 incident. He also showed clips of the fatal incident, showing Rozar screaming and running along the bus before getting run over by both the front and back wheels.
The video then shows Silney screaming and crying as he calls dispatch to report the accident. “I didn’t see her arm stuck in the bus… she fell. She’s not moving… somebody says she’s dead. Please please please.”
In pronouncing sentence, Judge Charbula said “I was touched by their testimony, I was touched by the Silney family’s testimony, I was touched by the pastor’s testimony, I was touched by his boss’ testimony.” But she said, “the reality is it was the defendant’s actions that has caused this family harm.”
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