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State to drop DUI charge against Channel 13 anchor Russell Rhodes

TAMPA — The Hillsborough State Attorney's Office will drop a driving-under-the-influence charge against WTVT-Ch. 13 morning anchor Russell Rhodes, five months after he was tackled by an off-duty deputy in a Channelside parking garage.

Rhodes, 50, was headed for trial on Wednesday on charges tied to his Jan. 16 arrest.

Instead, he will plead no contest to misdemeanor obstruction as part of a plea agreement reached Monday by prosecutors and defense attorney Jeff Brown.

If a judge accepts the plea, Rhodes will perform 50 hours of community service, Brown said. Adjudication will be withheld, meaning he will not have a conviction on his record.

"The 50 hours of community service are appropriate based on the way he handled himself that night," Brown said. "I think Russell has already acknowledged he didn't handle it in the most professional manner."

Assistant State Attorney Pam Bondi would not discuss the plea negotiations.

Rhodes, who lives in Tampa, was arrested after a deputy stopped him in the public parking garage at Channelside on suspicion that he was impaired. The deputy said Rhodes tried to walk away twice after being ordered to stay put and surrender his car keys.

When Rhodes tried to run out of the garage, authorities said, the deputy took him to the ground and arrested him on a charge of obstructing or opposing an officer without violence.

Rhodes, whose jail mug shot showed injuries to his face, resumed his on-air duties in mid February.

Authorities said he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.179 and 0.178 at the time of his arrest, more than twice the limit at which Florida considers a driver to be impaired. But County Judge Cheryl Thomas threw out the blood evidence last week, saying it was improperly obtained. Without it, the state had little chance of winning a DUI conviction.

"Dropping the DUI is clearly the right thing to do," Brown said. "I hope people don't think he's being treated differently than anybody else."

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

State to drop DUI charge against Channel 13 anchor Russell Rhodes 06/29/09 [Last modified: Monday, June 29, 2009 10:12pm]
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