TAMPA — Brian Adam DeLeon wove in and out of traffic on Memorial Highway, tailgating and speeding through a construction zone, a deputy said.
DeLeon had been drinking, and had his 13-month old son in the car, according to his July arrest record.
He is one of several Hillsborough County parents recently charged with child neglect in cases of driving under the influence. The neglect charge can be added by deputies who think the child was in danger.
It happened again Sunday, police said, when Jennifer Bonilla, 29, drove drunk through the dark with her headlights off and her 9-year-old daughter with her. Bonilla of 7710 N Central Ave. was going south on 50th Street near Broadway Avenue about 10 p.m. Sunday when a police officer saw her. A breath test showed an alcohol level nearly twice what state law allows. She as arrested on charges of DUI and child neglect.
The neglect charge is encouraged now. Not so a couple of decades ago. Through protocol, training and word of mouth, law enforcement has begun cracking down on such reckless behavior.
"We've become a lot more aware," said Bill Doerner, a part-time police officer and professor of criminology at Florida State University.
That's good, because it gets investigators to the children's homes to check out their living situation, said Rod Reder, vice president of the National Institute of Crime Prevention. If the home life is bad, the children can be removed.
"Who knows what you're going to find in the house," Reder said. "Maybe we might save some children's lives."
Although the neglect charges don't always stick in court, prosecutors work to get convictions, said Pam Bondi, a spokeswoman for the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office. Sometimes it even adds the charge if the deputies didn't, she said.
In DeLeon's case, the deputy did.
Undercover Deputy Felix Moret said he saw the Odessa man's aggressive driving around 11:30 p.m. on July 25 and turned on his siren. DeLeon slowly responded. The driver turned on Independence Parkway and stopped in the road.
Moret spoke over the his PA system, telling DeLeon to move off the road, just west of Tampa International Airport.
Moret said he smelled alcohol on DeLeon's breath as soon as he rolled down his window and spoke. DeLeon had bloodshot eyes and unfocused pupils, Moret reported in an arrest affidavit. His speech was slurred and he was unsteady on his feet.
Moret has noticed an increase in such cases. In his nine years working on DUI patrol, he hasn't pulled over many drunken drivers with children. But just this year, he has found three.
"It worries me," he said.
DeLeon had a blood alcohol level of 0.0431, lower than 0.08, which is the point at which the law presumes a driver is impaired. Deputies suspect he was under the influence of drugs as well and are awaiting toxicology reports, sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said.
DeLeon was charged with driving under the influence and child neglect. His wife was also in the car, but she was not charged. Her parents picked her and the child up from the scene, Carter said.
DeLeon's stay behind bars was brief. He was released on a $2,500 bail about 12 hours after he was arrested on July 25. He has pleaded not guilty.
Just five days later, another man was arrested in a similar case. A deputy pulled over Alberto Laguardia, 55, of Miami after spotting him driving a red truck with three children sitting on top of a tool box in the truck's bed. He had a blood alcohol level of 0.119, records show, which is above the legal threshold of 0.08.
He was charged with child neglect and driving under the influence, and he remains in jail with bail set at $9,000.
Aug. 21, Lisa Dawn Mitchell, 49, of Riverview was in a car crash in Brandon. The deputy sent to the scene said he smelled alcohol on her breath, and she failed a field sobriety test. She had her children in the car with her, the arrest affidavit states.
"You tend to give up trying to figure our why parents would do something like that to their children," Callaway said. "But the good news is you can put them behind bars."
Driving under the influence with a child in the car is the most prevalent form of child neglect while committing a crime, Callaway said. Deputies also charge adults with child neglect when a minor is present during an illegal drug transaction.
One such incident occurred last week .
Thursday, Rosa Maria Bradley, 22, of Brandon was charged with trafficking oxycodone and child abuse, both felonies. Temple Terrace Police say she brought her 4-year-old son to a drug deal where an undercover officer was waiting to obtain the 50 tablets for $500.
In June, two adults were arrested in the same week, accused of bringing children with them while selling cocaine.
Theodore Hall, 30, was arrested with three children in tow — ages 1, 3 and 4. The Tampa man, a.k.a. "Teddy Bear Roach," was accused of making a cocaine delivery at the Hooters restaurant parking lot at Hillsborough and Lois avenues.
Hall previously was convicted of aggravated battery of a pregnant woman, and was sentenced to four years and two months in prison. Records show he was released in December.
The children were released to their mother. He remains in jail, charged with possession and delivery of cocaine, and three counts of child neglect. Bail is set at $19,000.
Later that same June week, a man and a woman brought a 3-year-old with them during a cocaine transaction at the BP gas station at 56th Street and Hillsborough Avenue, where deputies say the woman, Shawanda Clarks, 22, of Tampa, pulled a bag with 0.22 ounces of crack cocaine from her bra.
She and Christopher Mansfield, 28, of Tampa were charged with possession and delivery of cocaine and child abuse. They're being held in the Orient Road Jail without bail.
Less than a year ago, Clarks was charged with child neglect and a string of marijuana-related charges.
The cases are reported to the Florida Abuse Hotline, and Hillsborough County cases are investigated by the Sheriff's Office's child protective investigations unit. They check the parents' criminal histories, and they look for previous incidents filed with the Department of Children and Families.
"They conduct a thorough investigation into the incident," said Lt. Donna Luscynski. "They investigate the life of the child in the home."
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661‑2443.