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Pasco man faces manslaughter charge five months after brother's death

LAND O'LAKES — Authorities on Wednesday arrested Jeffery Jeremiah Griffin, a member of a prominent Pasco political family, on a charge of manslaughter while boating under the influence of alcohol in a Labor Day weekend boat crash that killed his younger brother.

The crash happened Sept. 1 near the mouth of the Pithlachascotee River. Joshua Griffin, 29, was thrown from a 23-foot Boston Whaler when it struck a marker shortly before midnight, said Katie Purcell, spokeswoman for Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Jeffery Griffin, who goes by Jeremy, was the driver, an arrest report states.

Also aboard was a friend, Denelle Walicke, 25, who told investigators she blacked out when the boat hit the channel marker. When she came to, she saw Jeremy Griffin trying to get his brother out of the water. They called 911 and took the boat to shore where they met emergency workers.

Paramedics took a blood sample from Jeremy Griffin, 32, almost three hours after the crash, which revealed his blood alcohol level to be 0.093. Florida law presumes boat drivers are impaired at 0.08.

A medical examiner determined Joshua Griffin died of blunt trauma.

When the conservation commission finished its investigation, an officer called Griffin, who turned himself in at the jail about 9 a.m. Wednesday, according to sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll. Authorities described him as cooperative. Griffin made bail almost immediately after he was booked.

FWC Officer Baryl Martin said it's typical for boating under the influence investigations to take several months. Pieces from crashes float around or sink in the water, making the scene hard to re-create.

"It's not like a car accident where everything sort of stays in place afterward," he said.

A man who answered the phone at the number listed in Griffin's arrest report said the family declined to comment.

In September, Jeremy and Joshua's father, Jeff Griffin, told the Times his sons "were bonded together."

"They were joined at the hip," he said. "Jeremy's just devastated. This is his best friend."

The Griffin family is well-established in Pasco politics, having hosted numerous rallies for Republican candidates at its central Pasco Hallelujah Land Ranch, often drawing up to 150 GOP faithful at a time. Marco Rubio held a rally there during his 2010 bid for the U.S. Senate.

Jeff Griffin has served on the Pasco Republican Executive Committee, though he has been less active in the months since his son died, said party chairman Jim Mathieu. Joshua ran for County Commission in 2012, and another son, James Sean Griffin, ran in 2004 as a write-in candidate for Pasco superintendent of schools.

News of Griffin's arrest came as a shock to friends of the family.

Rich Jenkins, who knew them through their Republican ties, said Joshua Griffin was happy and generous, "a great man" who liked to pal around with his brother.

Hugh Townsend described the Griffins as "a perfect family" who were "wonderful to be around." He said he has talked to Jeremy Griffin since the accident to offer his condolences. He didn't ask any questions.

Townsend didn't know about the arrest until a Times reporter told him Wednesday over the phone. "I'm just shocked at the news," he said. "It was a tragedy."

Times staff writer Rich Shopes contributed to this report.

Pasco man faces manslaughter charge five months after brother's death 02/12/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 12, 2014 10:33pm]
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