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New Port Richey officer accused of several DUI charges resigns

NEW PORT RICHEY — Officer Christopher Sutherlin, accused last week of fleeing an accident in which he was driving drunk, resigned from the police force this week.

Sutherlin, 30, cited recent events and personal reasons in a letter Tuesday to Chief Martin Rickus. His resignation was effective immediately.

Sutherlin, who had been on the job less than a year, got off work about 9 p.m. Oct. 27. Early the next morning, he rear-ended a pickup on U.S. 19 north of Main Street and sped away, the Florida Highway Patrol said. The pickup's driver followed until Sutherlin was forced to pull over because of front-end damage to the Nissan pickup he was driving, FHP said.

Troopers arrested Sutherlin on charges of leaving the scene of an accident and later gave him a Breathalyzer test, which registered blood alcohol levels of 0.148 and 0.151 blood-alcohol level. Florida law presumes a driver impaired at 0.08.

Altogether, he faces charges of DUI, two counts of DUI with personal injury, DUI with property damage and leaving the scene of an accident involving injuries.

The police department began an internal investigation of the incident, which also involved Officer Joseph Pascalli, who was riding with Sutherlin.

Lt. Scott Baker said the investigation of both officers' conduct will continue. Pascalli, who had been part of the department's DUI unit, is now working the midnight shift on patrol.

Sutherlin had accrued 72 hours of unused vacation time, which will be paid out to him for a total of about $1,300.

Joshua Vitori, who was driving the pickup Sutherlin struck, suffered minor injuries. Vitori, 26, is a former paramedic for Pasco County. He also resigned from his job last week, following his arrest Oct. 25 on accusations he stole $300 from a patient in his ambulance.

Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6245.

New Port Richey officer accused of several DUI charges resigns 11/06/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 11, 2008 7:12pm]
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