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Friends And Family Plead For Mercy For Driver In Death Of Cyclist On Rickenbacker Causeway

MIAMI (CBSMiami)---Carlos Bertonatti's loved ones and friends testified that he was a compassionate person who deserved mercy because he was truly sorry for a DUI accident that took the life of a bicyclist on the Rickenbacker Causeway.

There were emotional moments again on Tuesday inside Circuit Judge Bronwyn Miller's courtroom as Bertonatti's friends and loved ones shed tears during testimony in the second day of  Bertonatti's sentencing hearing.

Bertonatti pled guilty to charges including DUI manslaughter last February to the January 2010 accident.

Authorities said Bertonatti left the scene on the Bear Cut Bridge in his 2007 Volkswagen Jetta.

Police caught up with him more than two miles away in Key Biscayne. Bertonatti testified that he was not aware that he had struck anyone. He said he fell asleep before the accident.

Bertonatti broke down on Tuesday as he listened to compelling testimony from his 25-year-old sister Daniela Bertonatti who said her brother stood by her during her three months of recovery at a hospital after she tried to commit suicide when she was 14 years old.

Daniela Bertonatti told the court it happened after a night of heavy drinking. She jumped from the 9th floor balcony of her parent's apartment.

"I was shattered inside and I was dying," she said, adding her pelvis was broken and she shattered her ankles.

"He told me to be strong and hold on," she said about her brother. "He told me not to let go and I did not let go. My brother stayed with me. I find him to be one of the most amazing persons."

"I think it's been enough. Every moment he is in there and every day he is in there he's come to terms with what has happened," she said. "He feels so terribly guilty about what has happened."

She said her brother felt a "lifelong responsibility" to helping LeCanne's widow, Sandra.

State guidelines call for a sentence of between 11.65 and 37 years behind bars. Judge Miller said she would not deliver her sentence on Wednesday. She said she needed some time to think about her decision and would rule at a later date.

Bertonatti's friend Chris Rodriguez, who is also his music producer, testified, "There's a magical thing about Carlos. He is talented and a great person. He has a charisma that is very rare. He's one of those guys whose heart is always open. He will always do the right thing."

"This accident was so bizarre and out of character," he said. "I love him. He is part of the family."

With those words, Rodriguez broke down and shed tears on the witness stand.

Another witness, Adrian Pena, testified that Bertonatti saved his life in April of 2001 when he came to his aid after he was suddenly attacked outside a hotel in Coral Gables. Pena said that assault happened after an altercation between Pena's ex-girlfriend  her boyfriend.

"My throat was sliced ear to ear and Carlos applied a tourniquet and pressed it to my neck," said Pena. "He saw the condition I was in.

Defense attorney Roberto Pentierra asked, "Is there any doubt that he saved your life?"

"There is no doubt in my mind," said Pena.

Patricia Rodriguez, who said she is a "distant cousin" of Bertonatti, testified that "He's amazing to everyone who meets him and he touches their heart. He is a good person. And he is loyal."

Prosecutors have said Bertonatti had 46 traffic citations during the time he has been driving. But his 28-year-old brother Miguel told prosecutors on Monday that he had secretly used his brother's identity when he was responsible for more than a dozen of those citations.

That claim---if true---could have an impact on Bertonatti's sentence and defense attorneys are asking for him to be sentenced to less time behind bars. But Miguel Bertonatti could be arrested as a result of that claim.

There was testimony on Tuesday that Miguel Bertonatti could not afford the cost of a private attorney in this case.

An attorney appointed by the court said that he had advised Miguel Bertonatti to "take the 5th" and not testify. He also said that Miguel had "mental health issues."

Judge Miller agreed to allow Miguel Bertonatti to be evaluated by a psychologist before his testimony would be allowed.

She plans to deal with that issue Wednesday morning. That's when more witnesses will testify and the sentencing hearing could be finished by the afternoon.

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