Hours after working crowd control at a Joe Biden rally in 2008, New Port Richey police Officer Christopher Sutherlin crashed his pickup into another vehicle on U.S. 19. Investigators said he left the scene — and that he was drunk. Two people were treated for minor injuries.
Sutherlin, 30, had been an officer for 10 months. He later pleaded no contest to driving under the influence. He avoided jail time, but his short stay with the police force ended.
Years later, this past Saturday, alcohol would again play a part in Sutherlin's life as authorities say he threw a beer can at a truck and fought with another man until his son, Christopher Sutherlin Jr., 15, went to his defense.
The end result: one man dead and the younger Sutherlin charged with manslaughter.
They were at the Redneck Games at the Horse Hole Creek mud bogs in Inglis when the elder Sutherlin fought with 24-year-old Roderic Sparks of Dunnellon. According to witnesses, Sparks revved his truck's engine repeatedly and Sutherlin signaled for him to stop. When he didn't, Sutherlin threw a beer can at the truck. It was about 7:30 p.m.
Sparks got out of his truck to fight. When Sutherlin appeared to be losing, his son ran to them and stabbed Sparks, Levy County sheriff's deputies said.
Sparks died at a Crystal River hospital. Authorities said the knife pierced his heart.
His cousin, Alisha Lecouris, 20, said she witnessed the fight.
"I was with him when the whole thing happened. He was right there in my arms," she said Tuesday. "He kept trying to open his eyes and he couldn't. It all happened really too fast out in the middle of the mud hole."
Lecouris said Sparks' truck had broken down and was stuck, which is why he revved the engine. She watched as Sutherlin threw the beer can, as Sparks stepped out of the truck and as Sutherlin's son joined the fight.
"I thought he was punching him, but he was stabbing him,'' she said. "Roderic turned around to walk away and that was it."
The younger Sutherlin is a freshman at Gulf High School. He played baseball and was a member of the Navy JROTC. His father told a Times reporter on Tuesday that he had no comment.
Sparks attended a technical institute to learn about welding. He enjoyed being outside and spending time with his family, said his aunt, Vickie Smith.
"He was a wonderful kid," she said. "There was never a time he didn't say he loved you."
Lecouris said there isn't a word to describe the closeness she and her cousin shared. If she ever called him in need, he was there next to her before she hung up. They grew up together. She saw him every day.
"Cousins by blood, brother by heart," Lecouris said.
Jamie Klein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.