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Florida Woman Sentenced to Jail After Coughing on Cancer Patient’s Face YouTube: First Coast News, First Coast News via Jacksonville Sheriff's Office
YouTube: First Coast News, via First Coast News via Jacksonville Sheriff's Office

Another day, another Florida woman story that ends in criminal charges. Last year footage of Debra Jo Hunter coughing aggressively on a fellow customer — a cancer patient, no less — at a Pier 1 store turned into a viral video. Due to the deadly Coronavirus pandemic, this action was treated with serious legal repercussions. Hunter was charged with misdemeanor assault and has now been sentenced to 30 days of jail time.

A Meltdown at Pier 1

In a Jacksonville Pier 1 last June, Debra Hunter was having an angry encounter with the store employees. Another shopper, Heather Sprague, pulled out her phone to begin recording the Karen-esque confrontation. That’s when Hunter approached Sprague directly — and coughed on her. The cough was clearly intended to frighten Sprague due to coronavirus. And the story gets worse: Sprague is currently being treated for a brain tumor and lives in a household of 12. That means she was especially nervous about the chance of getting sick; thankfully, she and her family had negative Covid-19 tests.

“I worried for the health and safety of my children, and wondered how in the world I could possibly isolate to protect them — in a household of 12 — if I had been intentionally infected.”

— Heather Sprague

The Trial of Debra Hunter

During the sentencing for her crime, Debra Hunter emphasized how her life has been turned upside down since the Pier 1 altercation, specifically due to social media. She sent a three-page letter appealing to Judge James Ruth, and said, “I watch as my kids lower their heads and turn the opposite direction, so they won’t be recognized or approached. And I know exactly what they’re feeling because I do the same thing.“

According to First Coast News, Hunter’s husband also testified in her defense and said that their family has been struggling since losing their possessions in a recent house fire. As for Hunter’s actions in Pier 1, her husband said, “It was like air being inflated into a balloon, and it finally got to the point where she couldn’t handle any more air. And then she finally rubbed up against something and just popped.“

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Duval County Court Judge James Ruth, however, was not sympathetic. He complained of Hunter’s defense:

“Her children didn’t create this problem and her husband didn’t, and she talked about how it changed her world and she was getting nastygrams on Facebook and things of that nature and they can’t go to their country club or wherever. But I have yet to see any expression, or a significant expression on her regret about the impact it had on the victim in this case!”

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In the end, Hunter was sentenced to 30 days in jail, a $500 fine, six months probation, a mental health evaluation, and anger management.

WATCH: Florida Mom Fights Teenage Girl with Boxing Glove Superglued to Her Hand

Emily Mack About the author:
Emily Mack is a staff writer for Rare. She currently lives in Chicago and has very strong opinions about where to find the best hot dog. She studied nonfiction writing at Columbia University in New York City, and recently graduated with the Ellis Avery Prize for creative writing. Her favorite topics are Cher, fast fashion, Chicago urban legends, and Jack Nicholson movies.
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