Darnell: Deputy's statement to Lowe 'doesn't sound good'
Published: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 4:35 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 4:35 p.m.
Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell said Wednesday she is concerned about a statement a deputy made to Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe indicating he was being treated differently following an accident because of Lowe's position.
But she added she is satisfied Lowe was not given preferential treatment after the March 21 incident that resulted in the mayor being arrested by the Florida Highway Patrol on charges of DUI with property damage and careless driving.
"I understand completely why there are questions about her comment," Darnell said. "It doesn't sound good. But what I fall back to is that her actions speak greater than the statement. She goes straight into saying they are going to contact FHP."
Darnell said she called Deputy Jessica Rowland after listening to a dash-cam video in which Rowland tells Lowe "we could go a whole other route with that, but because of the job you have, we're not going to" to learn what Rowland meant.
Rowland was one of two deputies who were dispatched to the scene of Lowe's accident early in the morning of March 21, which came in as a suspicious car call. In the video, she tells Lowe that she can tell by his eyes that he had had more than the three beers he had claimed.
"OK, it doesn't really matter the amount that you've had now," Rowland continues, "because … you're not operating the vehicle. You were in control of the vehicle; you were sitting in the driver seat.
"Umm, we could go a whole other route with that, but because of the job you have, we're not going to," she is heard telling Lowe in the video.
Deputies eventually called the FHP, which investigates accidents in the unincorporated area.
Darnell said Rowland told her she believed Lowe was lying to her about the amount of beer he had consumed.
Rowland heard the audio in the media and told Darnell "she knew it sounded bad" but that her intent all along was to call FHP.
Neighbors called 911 at 2:22 a.m. after hearing the accident, in which Lowe knocked over a road sign. A deputy arrived at 3:08 a.m.
Darnell said Rowland and Deputy Lance Pallett should have called FHP more quickly and should have called their supervisor to discuss the situation. Darnell said the supervisor eventually was notified by a dispatcher and got to the scene at 3:40 a.m.
The FHP trooper arrived on the scene at 3:46 a.m.
"There was no intentional delay, but I wish they had moved quicker," Darnell said. "They could have done things better."
Sheriff's spokesman Art Forgey said Rowland denied a request by The Sun for an interview.
Lowe was heading south on Northeast 21st Street, which ends at 156th Avenue in the Monteocha area of northeast Alachua County. Lowe continued through the intersection and ran over a ditch, causing substantial damage to his 2005 Honda Civic.
Lowe told authorities he had drunk three beers that night, the last one at 10 or 10:30 p.m.
He has since entered into a deferred prosecution agreement that will require him to participate in the DUI Intervention Program run by the State Attorney's Office.
If Lowe successfully completes that, he must enter a plea to a reckless driving charge. If he fails to meet the terms of the 18-month agreement, Lowe can be charged with DUI.
Forgey said he does not believe anyone at ASO saw the video until after it was released to the public Tuesday.
The Sun had requested video the day of the accident and was told that no video existed. A Sun editor again requested video on Friday.
"The video is on a hard drive, basically a computer in a car. They have to come to the station to upload it. At the time (The Sun) asked for that, I looked for that video and there was no video there," Forgey said. "We were of the assumption that we had no video. It wasn't until the editor called on Friday that we started looking to see if we had video."