BROOKSVILLE — A top official at the Hernando County Sheriff's Office has received a written reprimand after an internal investigation sustained allegations that she had been driving drunk.
Emily Vernon, the agency's finance director, pleaded no contest to a DUI charge in February. She must now continue with counseling sessions and keep the Sheriff's Office apprised of her progress at three- and six-month intervals.
In the reprimand, Sheriff Richard Nugent praised Vernon's decision to seek counseling, saying in a letter that the move "leads me to believe that you have taken steps in the right direction."
Vernon, 40, received one year of probation, was ordered to pay nearly $1,000 in fines and had her driver's license suspended for six months after she pleaded no contest to the DUI charge.
But her case caused a stir locally because she wasn't arrested until 10 days after witnesses say she wrecked her truck and acted intoxicated at the crash scene.
Witnesses said that just before midnight on July 12, a motorist swerved across Lake Lindsey Road and hit a road sign before the truck skidded to a stop near the intersection at Daly Road near Istachatta.
Several drivers had followed the vehicle and called 911 to report a reckless driver who they said had forced several vehicles off the road before hitting the sign.
Evidence at the scene — including Vernon's erratic behavior, witness statements and alcohol found inside her truck — indicated that Vernon was inebriated, but deputies determined they could not make an arrest because no witnesses saw her behind the wheel.
The State Attorney's Office decided to press charges after four witnesses came forward July 15 saying they had seen her driving. Nugent and prosecutors later acknowledged that the deputies on the scene could have made an arrest that night.
Investigators found an empty wine carafe in the passenger seat of her 2004 Chevy truck and a plastic bottle with a half-inch of a pinkish liquid that smelled like alcohol, arrest reports said.
According to another internal investigation report released this week, a deputy also received a written reprimand after it was found that he had been drinking in the eight hours before coming to work.
Deputy David Feger came to work Dec. 16 smelling of alcohol and was promptly sent home by his supervisors, according to the report. Feger later admitted to drinking from a bottle of whiskey the night before coming in to work and said he had already sought out counseling.
"I encourage you to seek any assistance you feel may be necessary," said Maj. Alan Arick in a letter to Feger.
Joel Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6120.