NEW PORT RICHEY — Donald Hancock was driving drunk in October 1996 when his car ran off the road, killing his wife. He was charged in her death, but Irene Hancock's grieving family said he deserved a second chance. At their urging, a judge spared him prison time and sentenced him to 15 years of probation.
Then last November, three years shy of completing his sentence, Hancock was arrested. Police said he was driving drunk again.
But the jury on Monday wasn't convinced. After hearing from just one witness — the New Port Richey officer who arrested him — and deliberating nearly four hours, a jury found Hancock not guilty of DUI.
His real day of reckoning is yet to come, however. He has to face a circuit judge on the allegation that the new arrest violated his probation. He faces up to 13 years in prison if found in violation.
Hancock, 46, was driving on U.S. 19 near Floramar Terrace after 3 a.m. Nov. 14 when New Port Richey Officer Chris Denton saw him make a U-turn at a flashing red arrow without stopping.
Assistant State Attorney Chris Sprowls asked Denton how Hancock acted. Denton described confusion, slurred speech, bloodshot eyes.
Denton asked for the vehicle registration. He said Hancock had the document in his hand but passed over it several times.
In addition, Denton said, there was an "overwhelming" odor of alcohol when Hancock spoke.
Jurors watched a video of him performing field sobriety tests. He appeared to move slowly and wobbled slightly, but didn't fall. He refused to take a breath test.
Defense attorney Martin Burzynski noted that many of Hancock's actions that night were legal and appropriate. Denton acknowledged that Hancock didn't swerve into any other cars. He was polite and neatly dressed.
Denton wrote in his report that Hancock volunteered the information about the death of his wife.
"You know who I killed that day, right?" Hancock said, according to Denton.
"No," Denton said.
"I killed my wife," Hancock said.
Jurors didn't hear about that exchange, or anything of the Oct. 5, 1996, crash in Darby that killed Irene Hancock. County Judge Anne Wansboro determined the information was too prejudicial and not relevant to this case.