Mayor jailed for DUI after accident


Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe, right, gets into a car after leaving the Alachua County jail on Thursday afternoon.

Maru Opabola /The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 8:35 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 5:00 p.m.

Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe walked out of the Alachua County jail around 4:30 p.m. Thursday after being arrested earlier in the day on a DUI charge. The arrest came after Lowe crashed his car in the northeastern part of the county.

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Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe, right, gets into a car after leaving the Alachua County jail on Thursday afternoon.

Maru Opabola /The Gainesville Sun

The Florida Highway Patrol reported that the single-car accident happened about 2:20 a.m. in the area of Northeast 21st Street and 156th Avenue.

Alachua County sheriff's deputies told an FHP trooper they saw Lowe behind the driver's seat when they first arrived and that he appeared intoxicated. Lowe, 55, told authorities that he had fallen asleep prior to the collision, which resulted in the crash.

The trooper, who arrived at the scene about 3:46 a.m., reported that he smelled alcohol and asked Lowe to perform field sobriety exercises. Lowe performed poorly on the tests, according to FHP.

Lowe told the trooper he had had three beers earlier in the evening, the last one about 10 p.m., the report states.

Lowe was arrested at about 4:58 a.m. At the jail, Lowe submitted to a breath test and registered a .061 and .069, according to the report. Florida law says any blood-alcohol level above .08 is considered legally drunk.

FHP Sgt. Tracy Pace said that given the time between the accident and the breath test at the jail, alcohol likely had started metabolizing out of Lowe's system.

Pace added that the Sheriff's Office was the first responding agency but that FHP was called to process the crash. She said it sometimes takes troopers time to get to accident scenes.

Sheriff's spokesman Art Forgey said he believes a resident of the area called authorities about a suspicious car.

"At least one deputy responded and found a vehicle parked at the Monteocha store with a person in it," Forgey said. "He began to talk to that person and noticed a lot of damage to the vehicle. Because it was involved in an accident, that's how FHP got involved."

Lowe was charged with DUI with property damage and careless driving, according to the FHP, and booked into the Alachua County jail.

Lowe initially was scheduled to make his first court appearance Friday at 9 a.m. but was allowed to leave jail early after County Court Judge David P. Kreider signed an order to release him on his own recognizance.

Because he was booked into the jail after 6 a.m., he missed the cutoff for Thursday's first appearance, a source at the jail said.

At some point Thursday, private defense attorney John Kearns contacted the State Attorney's Office and reached an agreement with unnamed prosecutors to release Lowe on his own recognizance. The judge subsequently signed the agreed order for the jail to release Lowe.

Leaving the jail, the mayor did not respond to reporters' questions about his arrest or his mayoral campaign. Looking down, he quickly climbed into the back seat of a waiting silver Nissan and was driven away.

"I wouldn't say that he got any special privileges because he's the mayor of Gainesville," Kearns said of Lowe's release. "You take a look at the type of people who are going to be released. In this case, it's a misdemeanor. I know it's a DUI, but it's not a felony. And this person has 30 years of ties to Gainesville and no criminal record."

State Attorney's Office spokesman Spencer Mann also downplayed the significance of Lowe's release ahead of schedule.

"It absolutely changes nothing," Mann said in a phone interview late Thursday. "Tomorrow morning at first appearance we would not object to him being released on his own recognizance.

"His attorney filed a motion with the court asking that he be released tonight on his own recognizance, so we're not objecting to that either. It doesn't change the outcome; it just changed when he was released."

FHP reported that Lowe's silver 2005 Honda Civic had major damage to its front and that all the tires were deflated after the wreck.

Lowe was traveling south on Northeast 21st Street approaching the intersection of Northeast 156th Avenue when he failed to maintain control of the Civic and went off the roadway and onto the south shoulder, the report states.

Lowe's car struck a ditch and a Florida Department of Transportation road sign on the south shoulder of the road before stopping on the south shoulder facing west.

FHP Trooper Javon Murphy reported that he smelled a strong odor of alcohol on Lowe and that his eyes were bloodshot and he was unsteady on his feet.

After being read his rights, Lowe was asked to perform several field sobriety tests, including the walk and turn, one-leg stand and finger to nose, all of which he performed poorly on, the report notes.

He then was arrested and taken to the Alachua County jail.

Connie O'Neal, whose home on 156th Avenue is at the crash site, said the crash was so loud it woke her and her brother.

"My brother thought somebody was shooting at his window," O'Neal said. "(Lowe) was talking slurry and tried to crank the car. He knew the car wouldn't crank or move."

According to Alachua County court records, Lowe's driving record shows citations in 1985 and 1986 for not having a valid tag on his vehicle.

On Tuesday, the mayor won a place in the April 16 runoff with former City Commissioner Ed Braddy in his bid for re-election.

Lowe's campaign manager, Nick Mildebrath, issued a statement just before 7 p.m. Thursday on behalf of the mayor, saying: "I apologize for the harm that this situation has caused to my friends, supporters, and the citizens of Gainesville. I feel that it's important to set the record straight. In the coming days, additional facts will come to light and I believe that I will (be) found not guilty in this case.

"I'm also thankful that no one was hurt, and I'm deeply sorry to anyone who feels I have violated the trust placed in me as an elected official. Moving forward, I will work hard to regain your confidence and trust. I look forward to getting back to work for the people of Gainesville."

The Sun tried reaching Lowe on his cellphone, but the call went straight to voice mail, which said Lowe's voice mail box was full.

Braddy, Lowe's rival in the upcoming runoff, offered this reaction: "I join many in Gainesville in hoping he has a healthy recovery," he said. "I'm grateful no one was injured in the incident, and I hope he gets the help he needs … I really encourage people, no matter who they are supporting in the runoff, to give him his space."

During his second term on the City Commission, Braddy was arrested for driving under the influence in January 2006. He took a hiatus from the commission to enter alcohol treatment and pleaded no contest to the DUI charges.

"I used it as a turning point," Braddy said. "I hit rock bottom and had to look at myself and what I was doing and change how I was living. … My thoughts are the test of character is how you respond to something like this. I say that not as his rival in a race but as someone who has been in a similar situation."

City Commissioner Thomas Hawkins said, "We all have difficult times in our lives. This is going to be a hard time for Craig. I support him not just as a politician but as a person. Right now he needs support, not just from political supporters but from friends, and I plan to provide that support."

The city of Gainesville earlier Thursday morning issued this statement: "The city is aware of media reports regarding the Florida Highway Patrol investigation of the single vehicle accident involving Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe.

"The immediate concern is the mayor's well-being. We are continuing to monitor events and will have no further comment on the circumstances related to the incident or the incident itself until the Florida Highway Patrol completes its investigation and official report."

The next court proceeding for Lowe will be his arraignment, where he will enter his plea to the charges against him. The date for his arraignment had not been set as of late Thursday.

Staff reporter Christopher Curry contributed to this report.

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