FORT PIERCE — A St. Lucie County Fire District firefighter who took a man’s foot and part of his leg from an Interstate 95 crash scene last year was sentenced Friday to six months’ probation on a charge of second-degree petit theft.
Cynthia “Cindy” Economou, 38, admitted she took the foot belonging to Karl Lambert, who was seriously injured in the accident, but said she did so to help train her body-recovery dog. She had faced up to 60 days in jail.
County Judge Philip Yacucci withheld adjudication, meaning Economou was not formally convicted of the crime; but if she violates terms of her probation, she could be adjudicated guilty.
Assistant State Attorney Gayle Braun had asked that Economou be sentenced to five days in jail, one for each day she had the severed foot before turning it over to authorities.
Braun argued that Economou’s act was “so unimaginable, we don’t even have a law to make it a felony. ... The legislature never fathomed that someone would steal a body part from another living person.”
Because a monetary value couldn’t be assigned to the foot, it was assessed as being worth less than $100, making the crime a misdemeanor.
Standing on crutches, Lambert told Yacucci, “I’ve got to live with this the rest of my life.”
Braun asked Lambert if the severed foot could have been surgically reattached to his leg.
“We’ll never know,” Lambert replied.
“Is that because it took too long to get it to a doctor?” Braun asked.
“We’ll never know,” Lambert repeated.
“I never meant any malice,” Economou said at Friday’s hearing. “I never meant to cause (Lambert) any pain.”
Economou said the foot was trapped in the wreckage, and she found it about an hour after Lambert was taken to St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach.
“It was an unrecognizable mass of flesh,” she said. “It wasn’t a clean cut. You couldn’t even recognize it as a foot... If I had thought it was somehow reattachable and usable, I would have gone to my commander.”
Yacucci called the case “highly unusual” and said Economou “made an extremely bad judgment call” but found that she wasn’t out for personal or “pecuniary gain.”
Economou was named the district’s firefighter of the year in 2007 and is the founder of Fully Involved Farms, which trains physically, emotionally and mentally challenged residents how to ride horses and compete in equestrian events at the Special Olympic.
Her accomplishments prompted Yacucci to tell her, “The commendable life you’ve led to this point greatly outweighs one bad judgment.”