Young man says he's haunted by deputy's death

BROOKSVILLE — Andrew Lyle remembers the glare of oncoming headlights.

On that February night four years ago, Lyle, then 16, had been arguing with his mother before he slipped out of his parents' Weeki Wachee home and into their Mitsubishi Montero.

He wanted to clear his head. Lyle drove around for hours before falling asleep in the parking lot of his high school, Nature Coast Technical.

This is dumb, he thought upon waking. It's time to go home.

About 5:45 a.m., the Montero crossed the center line on Powell Road and slammed head-on into the unmarked cruiser of Hernando Sheriff's Capt. Scott Bierwiler.

The 42-year-old father of three, a man many expected to be the next sheriff, died instantly. Lyle spent weeks in the hospital, then nine months in jail after prosecutors charged him with third- degree murder.

This week, in his first interview since the crash, Lyle said he carries that night and its effects with him as he puts his life back together.

"I wish I could take it back," said Lyle, now 20. "It's something I have to live with, and I take full responsibility for it."

• • •

Bierwiler was a rising star in the Sheriff's Office when Lyle crossed his path on Feb. 19, 2009.

Bierwiler started with the agency in 1986 and soon was earning praise from superiors. He was promoted to sergeant in 1998 and to lieutenant five years later. He received the agency's top honor, the Medal of Valor, in 2003 after a man suspected of killing a cop fired on him and fellow deputies.

Bierwiler earned his captain's bars five years later. Former Sheriff Rich Nugent once called him "the future of the agency."

He was also a devoted family man who was happiest when spending time with his wife, Angie, and their children, Kayla, Kiley and Scott Jr.

On Sundays, the family climbed aboard a boat they shared with another family and headed to the flats off Bayport. Bierwiler manned the barbecue while the kids swam.

• • •

Andrew Lyle and his mother, Andrea, moved to Hernando County from his native New Jersey in 1998.

Lyle's parents divorced around the time he was born. Once known as Andrew Morris, he changed his last name when his stepfather George officially adopted him a few years ago.

Before he left the house the night of the crash, Andrea Lyle urged him to buckle down and study.

Tests after the crash found no evidence of alcohol or illegal drugs in his system. He said he wasn't fiddling with the radio or his cellphone. He can't rule out that he nodded off for a moment.

"All I remember is seeing headlights … " he said, then paused. "I just don't know."

Lyle vaguely remembers the helicopter that took him to St. Joseph's Hospital, and an investigator questioning him before surgery. He suffered broken vertebrae, two broken ankles, and a few broken ribs. Surgeons placed titanium hardware in his back, leg and foot.

He was in an induced coma for two weeks. When he awoke, his parents told him what happened.

"I didn't want to live at that point," he said. "Who would want to?"

• • •

In sworn statements, the Lyles said their son did not have permission to take the vehicle. Prosecutors said that provided the state justification for the grand theft and murder charges.

Under state law, a third-degree murder is a death committed in the commission of another felony. Lyle, who had not been in trouble before, faced 15 years in prison.

Some legal experts said the murder charge seemed excessive. They wondered whether the case received special attention because Bierwiler was a law enforcement officer.

Lyle thinks the charges were "a stretch" but says he understands them.

"I just know I'm not a murderer," he said. "I didn't plan this. I'm just a kid who got into a really bad accident."

That assessment doesn't sit well with Angie Bierwiler.

"Scott and I taught our children that when you are somewhere you're not supposed to be and something happens, whether it's a car crash or a gunshot wound to someone, it's not an accident," she said. "Scott was where he was supposed to be. Andrew was not."

As part of a plea deal, Lyle was sentenced to nine months in jail, two years of house arrest, and four years of probation. Because he was sentenced as a youthful offender, the arrest will be expunged if he successfully completes his probation.

Watching Lyle handcuffed and led away brought some closure and served as a powerful lesson for her kids and others, Angie Bierwiler said.

"You just hope that he has learned from his mistakes and has truly come to understand the significance of how he changed lives forever and robbed these children of a father," she said.

Angie Bierwiler filed a civil suit against George and Andrea Lyle, claiming culpable negligence. The suit was eventually dismissed.

Angie Bierwiler said the kids are doing well. Kayla, who is disabled, lives with her. Kiley, 20, will start her senior year of college in the fall. Scott Jr. is in the eighth grade.

"There probably is some deep anger that will always be there," she said. "To wake up one morning and have your life be handed to you in a million little pieces is pretty debilitating, and I don't think an apology will help."

• • •

Lyle served nine months and was released in June 2011. He moved in with his parents, who rented a house in Spring Hill after their Weeki Wachee home went into foreclosure. They declined to comment.

Lyle said he returned briefly to Nature Coast but got a letter telling him he couldn't attend because of his criminal record. He earned a high school diploma by homeschooling.

Lyle had to check "yes" when a job application asked about felony arrests. A girlfriend helped him land a job at a McDonald's in Brooksville.

He got his driver's license back last summer and is one class away from an associate's degree from Pasco Hernando Community College. He's thinking about becoming a paramedic or a physical therapist and wants a family of his own.

Along with the pain he caused the Bierwilers, Lyle knows he has devastated his parents.

"They scraped together everything to get me a lawyer, and they've been there through everything," he said.

He has not tried to contact to the Bierwilers because, he said, he doubts they want to hear from him.

"I'm extremely sorry," he said. "I feel bad about what happened, but what can you really say to someone like that?"

Lyle thinks he has learned the lessons Angie Bierwiler hoped he would.

"I grew up fast."

Reach Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1431. On Twitter: @TMarreroTimes.

Young man says he's haunted by deputy's death 02/22/13 [Last modified: Friday, February 22, 2013 10:44pm]

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