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Polk deputies arrest woman riding horse on DUI charge

By Sara DiNatale
Donna Bryne's horse was tied to a deputy's cruiser after she was arrested on charges she was riding the horse drunk. (Polk County Sheriff's Office)

A Florida woman was arrested Thursday on charges she was riding her horse while drunk, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

Donna Byrne faces charges of DUI and animal abandonment because deputies believe she placed the horse in danger of being injured or killed by riding it through a busy roadway. She was still being held in the Polk County jail when she turned 53 on Friday.

A passerby called the Sheriff’s Office after noticing Byrne appeared "confused and possibly in danger," according to an arrest affidavit.

"Ms. Byrne was obviously not in any condition to be on the road," said Polk Sheriff Grady Judd in a prepared statement. "She not only put herself and the horse in danger, but also anyone who was driving on the road, which is typically very busy."

Bryne was asked to undergo a field sobriety test and then arrested on the DUI charges The Sheriff’s Office said a Breathalyzer test revealed she had blood-alcohol levels of 0.157 and 0.161. Florida law presumes a driver is impaired at 0.08 or greater.

Polk deputies also said Byrne had red, watery eyes, staggered when she tried to walk and appeared and that they smelled the odor of alcohol. Byrne often rides her horse around Lakeland, according to the Ledger, and her horse’s name is Bo Duke.

So does a DUI charge fit this case? While Florida law has a loose definition of what constitutes a vehicle, Fort Myers defense attorney Spencer Cordell said a horse may not fall under the law’s parameters. In 2012, Cordell wrote on his blog after a similar incident involving a Bunnell man that it was unlikely such a charge could ever hold up in court (though there might be a strong argument to be made if it’s a horse-drawn carriage, because it has wheels.)

"The last thing you want to do is test it, and run into the cop who thinks a horse is a vehicle," Cordell wrote. "In Florida, almost anything else is a vehicle, including bikes, tricycles, lawnmowers, airplanes, golf carts, roller blades and even a segway."

Deputies took the horse to the county’s animal control livestock facility. Bryne is being held in jail in lieu of $1,000 bail.