Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Public safety

Hernando man charged with DUI manslaughter in Groveland motorcycle crash

One evening in January 2011, Deborah Patton fell off a motorcycle driven by her boyfriend, William A. Fortier, and hit the pavement on Glen Lakes Boulevard, north of Weeki Wachee, records show.

Patton was bleeding heavily from her head. But instead of calling paramedics, a Hernando sheriff's report states, Fortier called Patton's brother to take her to the hospital. According to witnesses at the scene, Fortier appeared to be intoxicated and angry as he ordered Patton to get up and told concerned passers-by not to call authorities.

Deputies tracked Fortier down later and charged him with leaving the scene of an accident with an injury and operating a motorcycle without the required license, records show.

Six months later, authorities say, it happened again. Now Fortier, a 53-year-old Weeki Wachee resident, faces a DUI manslaughter charge.

Fortier was driving a 1995 Harley-Davidson Screamin' Eagle Dyna Glide on State Road 19 through Groveland on the night of July 24, 2011, when he lost control and crashed, according to an arrest warrant signed by a Lake County judge on Tuesday.

Patton, 56, was thrown from the motorcycle and hit her head. She died in an Orlando hospital three days later.

After the crash, Fortier told Groveland police he might have hit an animal, the warrant states. He told investigators he had his last beer about four hours before the crash, but results from a blood test showed his blood-alcohol level was .115, and investigators never found an animal carcass or other evidence of a collision, according to the warrant. A driver with a blood-alcohol level of .08 or higher is presumed intoxicated under Florida law.

Fortier, 53, turned himself in to the Hernando County Sheriff's Office after Groveland police Lt. Jesse Baker called to inform him of the warrant, Baker said Friday.

Fortier was booked into the Hernando County Detention Center and posted $50,000 bail a few hours later, records show.

The Harley was registered to both Patton and Fortier, but his license was suspended at the time of the Groveland crash, and he still did not have a motorcycle endorsement, the warrant states.

Hernando prosecutors ultimately decided not to prosecute Fortier on the earlier charge of leaving the scene, said Assistant State Attorney Tamesis Cruz.

Though witnesses saw the motorcycle lying on its side, no one actually saw whether Fortier crashed the bike or Patton simply fell off, as she would later tell investigators, Cruz said. More important, Fortier stayed until Patton's brother arrived and followed them to the hospital. To violate the statute, a suspect must immediately leave the scene without trying to render aid, Cruz said.

Before coming to the decision, prosecutors subpoenaed Patton for a deposition, Cruz said. By the time the subpoena arrived in the mail, though, Patton was dead.

Fortier, who lists his occupation as a truck driver, has twice been convicted of misdemeanor battery in Hernando County since 2007, according to state records.

Baker said Patton and Fortier were living together in Weeki Wachee at the time. Neither were wearing helmets when the Groveland crash occurred.

"Had she been wearing a helmet," Baker said, "we'd probably be talking to her today."

News researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Tony Marrero can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431.

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