Officer Faces DUI Charges
NEW PORT RICHEY - A 30-year-old New Port Richey police officer was arrested by Florida Highway Patrol troopers early Tuesday morning, accused of drunken driving and causing a crash that injured him and his two passengers. Officer Christopher John Sutherlin was driving a 2006 Nissan pickup south of U.S. 19 about 20 miles over the 55-mph speed limit and slammed into a vehicle in front of him near Sunset Road, according to a patrol report. Sutherlin kept going after the crash and turned onto Sunset, but he had to stop because of the damage to his truck, the report states. Joshua D. Vitori, 26, the other driver, followed Sutherlin in his 2005 Ford pickup, and soon troopers responded, according to the report. Sutherlin's passengers, Joseph Pascalli, also a New Port Richey officer, and Brittany Perez, had minor injuries and were taken by ambulance to Community Hospital. Vitori was taken to Community Hospital with minor injuries.According to Trooper David Frye's report, Sutherlin smelled of alcohol, had watery and bloodshot eyes, and was "giving inconsistent answers to my questions." At the crash scene, Sutherlin was arrested on a charge of leaving the scene of a crash with injuries. Because of the number of New Port Richey police officers who showed up at the crash scene, troopers took Sutherlin to the Hernando County Jail to interview him for the criminal case on video, the report said. After being read his rights, Sutherlin took a breath-analysis test, and it was determined his blood-alcohol level was between 0.148 and 0.151, nearly twice the limit at which the law presumes impairment. After being medically cleared at Spring Hill Regional Hospital, Sutherlin was taken to Land O' Lakes Jail, where he also was booked on charges of DUI, two counts of DUI personal injury and DUI property damage. He was released from jail Tuesday afternoon after posting $6,000 bail. Police Chief Martin Rickus said Sutherlin has worked as a city patrol officer for about 11 months. He was waiting for reports from the patrol and a review of the situation before deciding Sutherlin's fate. Sutherlin could be placed on administrative leave without pay or fired. The chief likely will decide today. "We're going to look into it and see how it goes, and we'll deal with it once we see exactly what the charges are," he said. "He's been very good," Rickus said of Sutherlin's work history. "His supervisors like him. He does a good job," he said. I know he does have some family problems. ... That's something I have to look into, too."
Reporter Lisa A. Davis can be reached at (727) 815-1083.