BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County sheriff's Deputy David Feger spent several hours at Bar Envy one night last April, had several drinks and then got in his truck and drove home.
A woman at the bar who followed Feger home told jurors in a Brooksville courtroom Monday that he was driving erratically and stumbled and fell on the way to his front door.
The woman's testimony was the key piece of evidence, prosecutors said, that should help convict Feger on a charge of driving under the influence since no law enforcement officer had seen him behind the wheel.
A six-member jury disagreed, acquitting Feger on the charge after deliberating for about an hour Tuesday.
"I'm satisfied, and I'm happy that the truth has come out," Feger, 35, said in a brief interview a few minutes later.
Now that the criminal case is complete, the Sheriff's Office will conduct an internal affairs investigation that will "focus on violations of agency policies and procedures allegedly committed by Deputy Feger," Col. Mike Maurer said in a statement. He declined to elaborate on specifics. Feger will remain on unpaid leave, Maurer said.
Assistant State Attorney Sonny McCathran called seven witnesses to help re-create what happened on the night of April 21.
Feger, who was off duty, arrived at the bar, near the intersection of Spring Hill Drive and Mariner Boulevard, at about 7:30 p.m. A bartender testified that she served Feger three or four drinks. Four people eventually offered him a ride home, which he declined.
One of the women he socialized with that night was Stacey Horvath, who told jurors she and a friend decided to follow him and call 911 because he was clearly driving under the influence. Horvath said she saw Feger fall and land on his face on the way to the front door of his Spring Hill home.
A deputy who arrived at Feger's home about 20 minutes later and interviewed him testified that Feger smelled of alcohol and appeared intoxicated, slurring his words and swaying. The deputy could not ask Feger to submit to sobriety field tests, however, because he did not see him driving.
Feger said he was driving evasively because he knew Horvath was following him and he didn't want her to know where he lived. That didn't make sense, McCathran said during closing arguments. Otherwise, why didn't he call for help, and why did he drive straight home?
"It's a combination of testimony," McCathran told the jury during his closing argument. "She's not the only witness in this case. If he's not impaired, why did four separate people, at four separate times during night, offer to give him a ride home?"
There was plenty of reasonable doubt to warrant an acquittal, Feger's attorney, Ellis Faught, Jr., told jurors during his closing argument.
Feger said he stopped drinking at 10:30 p.m., long before he drove home at about 2 a.m., and no witnesses testified that they saw Feger drinking after 10:30 p.m.
"That's a lack of evidence," he said.
Feger denied that he fell in his driveway, and Faught noted that deputies did not notice injuries consistent with such a fall. Feger said that he had downed two drinks and some antianxiety medication as soon as he arrived home and before deputies interviewed him.
Faught's main target was Horvath, who admitted she lied when she initially told investigators she didn't know Feger. In fact, Faught noted, Feger had arrested Horvath on a domestic violence charge about five years ago.
During her testimony, Horvath said she lied because she feared retaliation from Feger.
"There's your reasonable doubt," Faught said. "The telltale is the key witness is an admitted liar."
Horvath's untruthfulness was likely a consideration for jurors, but the case was still strong, McCathran said after the verdict.
"There was clearly evidence he was driving under the influence, but they decided there was reasonable doubt, and I accept that," he said.
Feger, who joined the Sheriff's Office in 2002, has been on unpaid administrative leave since June 6, when the State Attorney's Office issued a summons based primarily on Horvath's statements.
He has had alcohol-related trouble before. In 2009, he received a letter of reprimand and was required to submit to random drug screenings after an internal investigation determined that he had reported for duty one morning within eight hours of drinking alcohol.
Feger said he had drunk a third of a bottle of whiskey and passed out between midnight and 1 a.m., according to a report.
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.