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Officials look into deputy's release from Hernando jail

Hernando County sheriff's officials acknowledge that they are trying to determine whether an alleged drunken driver got a lucky break early Tuesday morning because he is a sheriff's deputy from Pasco County.

Hernando Deputy William Steele arrested the driver of a white Bronco about 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, took him to the jail and rousted a Breathalyzer technician out of bed to come down and give a test. Then, something changed.

The suspect was allowed to skip the breath test and go home. No charge was lodged. And the jail log entry that listed the suspect's name and Steele's name, as arresting officer, was carefully covered with correction fluid.

Hernando Capt. Rich Nugent declined to provide further details. Neither Steele nor his supervising sergeant on the night shift, Lanny Corlew, had provided written statements, Nugent said, "and it wouldn't be fair to comment."

The Pasco deputy, Kurt A. Gell, declined comment Tuesday.

Neither Steele nor Corlew could be reached Tuesday.

Ed Sullivan, one of the three technicians who run the Breathalyzer testing machine at the jail, said he was awakened early Tuesday by a jail official.

"Somebody called me and said they needed a breath test, and then I got there and they said, "Never mind,'

" Sullivan said. "My philosophy is, "You don't ask any questions.'

"

Word of Tuesday's curious events leaked to the St. Petersburg Times in the form of an anonymous tip. A caller said a man had been brought to the jail on a drunken driving charge. When authorities were going through his possessions, the caller said, they discovered a Pasco County deputy's badge and released the suspect.

Hernando jail administrator L.T. Brown said Tuesday that he knew nothing about Gell's visit to the jail. Brown would not allow the booking officer who was in charge at the jail early Tuesday morning talk to a reporter.

Pasco sheriff's spokesman Jon Powers said Gell was put on administrative leave Tuesday morning after a hurried meeting between Hernando and Pasco supervisors at the county line.

Hernando County Sheriff Tom Mylander said he knew of the investigation but had not seen a report.

"It may be proper, it may not," Mylander said of Steele's actions. "That's why we're looking into it."

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