TAMPA, Fla. - A bad decision on the water changed a Hillsborough County woman's life forever and led to the tragic death of her 9-year-old son. Despite facing 15 years in jail, prosecutors and a judge showed mercy in the final stage of the case.
During a virtual court hearing Friday, Tabatha Long wiped away tears as a prosecutor recounted the worst day of her life.
Long's 9-year-old son drowned in the muddy water of Bullfrog Creek in Gibsonton in July of 2019.
Prosecutor Jessica O'Connor told the court Long was high and drinking alcohol when she let her son climb on her back while she was swimming.
"The child fell off Ms. Longs' back, subsequently drowning. He was found by HCSO deputies in about eight feet of water," recalled O'Connor.
Long was caught in a lie when she first told detectives her son went into the water without her permission but later admitted she had carried him in. She also said he wasn't a strong swimmer, but prosecutors said they later learned the boy couldn't swim at all.
Two years later, Long is taking a plea deal to a reduced charge of second-degree manslaughter.
"Guilty in my best interest," Long told the judge.
She was looking at 15 years behind bars, however, prosecutors went easy on her and gave her 10 years probation.
Tampa judge Lyann Goudie showed mercy too.
"She's going to live with this grief for the rest of her life. I'm going to withhold adjudication," ruled Goudie.
That means Long avoids a criminal conviction on her record – a small consolation for a mother who has lost so much already.
As a requirement of her probation, Long will have to pay the Hillsborough Sheriff's office $16,457.32 in investigative costs.