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Hernando lawyer charged with DUI in restaurant parking lot

Widely known Brooksville defense lawyer and former state prosecutor Osa J. "Chip" Harp III was arrested Thursday afternoon on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol.

A Hernando County sheriff's deputy stopped Harp, 59, at 4:45 p.m. in the drive-through of Popeye's restaurant on U.S. 19. According to a report, he responded to a 911 call in which witnesses reported that Harp was weaving from lane to lane and nearly caused an accident at the corner of Northcliffe Boulevard.

The witnesses also said in a sworn statement that Harp's head was bobbing up and down, as if he were falling asleep, according to the report.

He drove to the pickup window at Popeye's, bypassing the order station, and told the woman working there to "give me the biggest special you can ring up," according to the report. After getting his food and change, Harp began to drive away.

But a deputy stopped the dark green Oldsmobile Intrigue in the restaurant lot, the report stated, to prevent Harp from returning to the road and possibly causing a crash.

Deputy Keith Brown wrote that Harp's eyes were bloodshot and watery, and his breath smelled of alcohol. He added that Harp stumbled as he got out of the car, causing Brown to grab Harp "to keep him from falling to the ground."

Harp did not take a field sobriety test, and he refused to take a breath test. He was taken to the Hernando County Jail, where he posted $500 bail and was released.

Harp was a prosecutor in the mid-1970s to early 1980s and is currently a private practitioner. He has handled some high-profile cases over the years. Some clients he has defended include Jonathan R. Patton, convicted this year for murder and kidnapping; Johnny Burgess III, convicted last year for attempted second-degree murder; and Charles Waddy, convicted on two counts of attempted manslaughter in 1999 for shooting a Brooksville police captain.

For the past two years, Harp has been hired by Hernando County as a conflict counsel for the public defender's office. His contract paid up to $80,000 a year and provides for termination if criminal prosecution begins against Harp or his associates.

Harp could not be reached for comment.

_ Information from Times files was used in this story.