NEW PORT RICHEY — It was 3 a.m. Saturday and Officer Chris Denton was nearing the end of his shift when he saw a car make an illegal U-turn on U.S. 19. He pulled the car over and spoke with the driver, Donald Hancock, a 46-year-old self-employed bookkeeper.
The officer smelled alcohol and said Hancock's eyes were watery and bloodshot. Hancock failed a field sobriety test, but denied drinking and refused a Breathalyzer.
In the trunk of the car, Denton found half-empty bottles of Bacardi rum and Jagermeister and a full flask of vodka.
Denton told Hancock he was being arrested on a charge of DUI. Hancock told the officer he was on probation until 2012 for DUI manslaughter.
"You know who I killed that day, right?" Hancock said, according to Denton.
"No," Denton said. He wasn't familiar with the case.
"I killed my wife," Hancock said.
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It was 3 a.m. on Oct. 5, 1996. Donald and Irene Hancock had been to a party and were driving on State Road 52. She was 37. He was 33. They had been married for seven years and lived in Spring Hill. They both worked at the Cracker Barrel in Wesley Chapel.
Near Bellamy Brothers Boulevard, their 1991 Geo Prizm ran off the road and into the parking lot of the Neon Cowboy General Store. They crashed into two garbage bins, hit a pole and flipped. Mrs. Hancock was ejected. The car landed on top of her.
She was pronounced dead at the scene at 3:36 a.m.
Donald Hancock was treated at a hospital. Two months later, he was charged with the death of his wife. The Florida Highway Patrol said his blood alcohol level was 0.25, more than three times the threshold for a DUI.
It was his first arrest in Florida, according to state records.
A few months later, in February 1997, Irene Hancock's family told the judge her husband had much to offer and deserved a second chance. They pleaded for leniency. Hancock faced 10 to 17 years in prison. Instead, he got 15 years of probation.
Three years later, he was arrested at a Hillsborough County beach when he didn't have permission to leave Pasco. Tampa police also said he had a concealed weapon in his car. Hancock said it was a tire pressure gauge.
He faced the possibility of 10 years in prison for violating his probation.
His lawyer argued that Hancock turned his life around — performing community service, speaking to anti-alcohol groups, maintaining his sobriety and keeping a job, according to a previous St. Petersburg Times story.
The judge restored Hancock's probation.
"Oh, thank God," Hancock said outside the courtroom. "I just thank God. I didn't know what was going to happen."
His lawyer, Bill Eble, told the judge:
"He'll never let it happen again."
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Hancock was charged Saturday with DUI and violating his felony probation. Hancock, who now lives in New Port Richey, is being held without bail at the Land O'Lakes jail.
Attorney J. Larry Hart, who is not working on this case, said anything could happen to Hancock. If he is convicted of this new DUI charge, "he clearly is looking at a period of imprisonment," Hart said.
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6229.