Officials Say DUI Crashes Down, But How Accurate Are Those Findings?
HERNANDO – Alcohol related crashes were down in 2014, according to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office.
In a report which includes accidents handled by the Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Highway Patrol, there were only 93 alcohol related crashes in 2014, compared to 117 the previous year. The number of alcohol related injury crashes also dropped from 68 in 2013 to just 37 last year. Motorcycle involved crashes: 9 to 8, and pedestrian involved crashes: 11 to 9. Finally, there were 4 fatalities in 2014, compared to 5 the prior year.
Sgt. Scott Lamia, who heads the counties Traffic Unit, says “It is our goal to keep this trend on a downward spiral through our aggressive approach to DUI and overall traffic enforcement.”
Although this is a good trend overall, there are factors which may adversely effect on the accuracy of these statistics.
In a recent RNRF report, we highlighted two crashes, where drivers admitted to being intoxicated but the accident reports made no mention of impairment or Alcohol/Drug testing was not conducted.
The first accident occurred on January 9th when driver, Lorretta Jean Knowles, nearly struck several vehicles in a convenient store parking lot, before striking two utility poles and a tree in a violent rollover crash on Elgin Blvd. Knowles, who was not seriously injured, admitted to witnesses that she was intoxicated before being transported to a local hospital; however, the Florida Highway Patrol Trooper working the accident did not request a blood draw or mention alcohol as a possible factor in his report (WATCH FULL REPORT)*.
After posting our report, the Florida Highway Patrol conducted a follow up investigation, and later updated their report to reflect a more accurate path of travel. The State Attorney’s Office has opened its own investigation and is currently reviewing the case.
The second incident occurred on January 16th when the driver of a Chevy Lumina struck two vehicles on Cortez Blvd and left the scene. The driver, 46-year-old Donald Verrecchio, struck another vehicle on Candia Street in Spring Hill, less than an hour later. Verrecchio and his passenger 34-year-old Theresa Marie Vandebos both sustained incapacitating injuries and were transported to area hospitals for treatment. Even though Verrecchio admitted to being under the influence of drugs and alcohol, he was not tested or charged with driving under the influence.
We asked the Florida Highway Patrol why a DUI investigation was not conducted and they said “The Trooper assigned to the case did not come out until 10:00 P.M. He did not make contact with the driver until 2:00 A.M. so too much time had passed to make a DUI charge. The driver admitted to drinking, but his admission can’t be used to file a charge.”
Do incidents, like the examples mentioned above, create a problem with accurate reporting of alcohol related crashes? Absolutely, says Alyson Rhode, who witnessed the Elgin Blvd crash. Rhode’s lost her sister to a drunk driver and says “…she almost killed us! I’m pushing this; I’m not letting it go!”
The Sheriff’s Office conducts regular operations throughout the county, to combat drunk driving, unsecured motorists, and texting and driving. The Florida Highway Patrol, along with local law enforcement agencies, are participating in a “Spring Broke” campaign, to warn Spring Breakers that impaired driving will not be tolerated of Florida roadways. Officials say, reminding spring breakers that the average cost of a DUI is between $5,000 and $20,000, should help deter impaired driving.
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*This report states that the vehicle driven by Lorretta Knowles did not strike a tree; however, Knowles did strike a tree after colliding with the first utility pole. We apologize for the error.