BROOKSVILLE — A Hernando County judge on Thursday found a top official at the Sheriff's Office guilty of driving drunk.
Emily Vernon, the agency's finance director, pleaded no contest as part of an agreement with prosecutors. County Judge Donald Scaglione gave her one year of probation, ordered her to pay nearly $1,000 in fines and suspended her driver's license for six months.
She did not appear in court for the hearing because she wanted to avoid the media publicity surrounding her case, prosecutors said.
The maximum penalty was one year in county jail, but Assistant State Attorney Matthew Pila said the plea agreement was typical for this type of case.
Vernon, 40, remains in her position at the Sheriff's Office, spokeswoman Donna Black said.
The Sheriff's Office did not comment further because an internal affairs investigation is under way.
Vernon's case sparked a controversy because she wasn't arrested until 10 days after witnesses say they saw her wreck her truck and act intoxicated at the crash scene.
Witnesses said just before midnight July 12 Vernon swerved across Lake Lindsey Road and hit a road sign before skidding to a stop near the intersection with Daly Road near Istachatta.
Several drivers followed Vernon and called 911 to report a reckless driver who they said had forced several vehicles off the road before hitting the sign.
All the evidence at the scene indicated Vernon was inebriated — including her erratic behavior, witness statements and alcohol found inside her truck — but deputies determined they could not make an arrest because no witnesses saw her behind the wheel.
The State Attorney's Office decided to press charges after four eyewitnesses came forward July 15 saying they saw her driving.
Sheriff Richard Nugent and prosecutors later acknowledged that the deputies on the scene could have made an arrest that night.
Investigators found an empty wine carafe in the passenger seat of her 2004 Chevy truck and a plastic bottle with a half-inch of a pinkish liquid that smelled like alcohol, according to arrest reports.
John Frank can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 754-6114.