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Brooksville worker gets three-day suspension after DUI

BROOKSVILLE — The night of Jan. 4, Brooksville city employee Tina Nichols met friends for drinks at Outback Steakhouse and later at R Beach. On her way home, a Florida Highway Patrol trooper stopped her for speeding and later charged her for driving under the influence.

Earlier this month, she pleaded no contest to the DUI charge and received one year of probation. Her troubles continued Tuesday when city officials took action after reviewing the court case.

City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha suspended Nichols for three days without pay, calling her conduct "a serious violation," according to a copy of the reprimand released Wednesday.

Nichols could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Nichols has worked as a recreation department employee intermittently since 2000. Last year, she played a key role in a scandal that eventually led to a major shakeup at City Hall.

Norman-Vacha said the primary motivation for the reprimand was not just the arrest but Nichols' demeanor toward the trooper and the false accusations she made about a fellow city worker and the chief of police.

"Her conduct certainly puts the city in a bad light," Norman-Vacha said.

Nichols, 46, was stopped at 1:28 a.m. Jan. 5 for driving 62 mph in a posted 45 mph zone and failing to maintain a single lane on State Road 50. The trooper detected signs of impairment and Nichols failed field sobriety tests, reports state.

She later registered 0.128 and 0.124 percent on blood-alcohol level tests, reports show. The level at which a person is presumed impaired in Florida is 0.08 percent.

During the stop, Nichols acted indignant and berated Trooper David Frye continuously after being arrested, according to an audio recording obtained by the Times. She denied being intoxicated but later acknowledged at the jail that she had at least three alcoholic drinks that night.

"I haven't been f---ing drinking," she yelled at the trooper from the back seat of his patrol cruiser. "I am not drunk. I'm having a lot of anxiety. I have a lot going on in my life right now.

"You give me the same f---ing test again and I will pass it. You are wrong. You are wrong and you'll f---ing pay for it. I can guarantee that."

Nichols later told the trooper that she planned to attend the law enforcement academy in February to become a certified officer.

"I am a future officer of the law and you are wrong," she said. "You just ruined my whole f---ing future of being a police officer.

Frye responded, "Ma'am, you driving drunk ruined your future."

Nichols also told the trooper her husband is a Hernando County sheriff's deputy. She also claimed she just had dinner with Brooksville police Chief George Turner, who she said would come get her if the trooper made a call.

According to Nichols' personnel records, she is divorced and not married. At one time, she dated Joe Bernardini, a reserve sheriff's deputy who is now a Brooksville City Council member.

Bernardini bailed Nichols out of jail after her arrest but said they stopped dating before he was elected to the council in late 2006.

"I'm not sure who she's talking about," he said. "I'm not her husband and she knows I'm not a reserve deputy anymore."

Turner, likewise, called Nichols' statements a "total fabrication." He said he had dinner at R Beach that night with the Brooksville fire chief but not with Nichols, who came in later. He said she later apologized in a letter.

"I don't know her and I wouldn't have come to pick her up anyway," he said. "People say stupid things when they get arrested and they are intoxicated."

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114.

Brooksville worker gets three-day suspension after DUI 04/23/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 29, 2008 9:10am]
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