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The party trial's over - no deputy

The state dropped its case against parents who said they slept through their daughter's late-night party, after a sheriff's deputy failed to appear to testify against them on Wednesday.

David and Elise Ziegelhofer were arrested Oct. 30 after neighbors complained about noise from the party. Deputy Karen Henry wrote that she arrived at the Ziegelhofer home in the gated River Hills community after 1 a.m. to find the front lawn littered with empty cups.

Inside, she wrote, she saw about 50 teenagers surrounded by about 100 beer and liquor bottles, with no parents in sight.

The Ziegelhofers' lawyer, Ty Trayner of Tampa, said the couple fell asleep waiting for their daughter to return from the Durant High School homecoming dance and slept through the party.

The misdemeanor case was initially scheduled for a nonjury trial Feb. 2. Henry did not show up to testify that day. Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Debbie Carter said Henry was excused because of illness.

The trial was postponed until Wednesday, but again Henry did not appear. Carter said she didn't know why.

Pam Bondi, spokeswoman for the State Attorney's Office, said she also could not explain Henry's absence.

When it became clear that the trial couldn't proceed without Henry, the prosecution's key witness, Judge Thomas Barber asked the state prosecutor to drop the case.

Barber said he has an unofficial policy of giving each side just one extension per trial, in order to keep cases from dragging on.

"That's just my way of running my courtroom," he said.

Randy Hartman, a neighbor of the Ziegelhofers and the state's other witness, said he was disappointed not to get to testify.

He said he didn't believe the Ziegelhofers could have slept through the party.

"All you have to do is have a little common sense," he said. "If I can't sleep at my house (because of the noise), what are they doing?"

Trayner said he was pleased that the case was dropped, although he said he was ready for trial.

He said Henry should never have arrested the Ziegelhofers. She could have merely issued them a summons rather than "booking them into jail," he said.

"It's just a little misdemeanor that got blown out of proportion because the police officer, instead of doing what 10 out of 10 police officers are supposed to do, she took them to jail," he said.

"Maybe she was having a bad day," he added. "Maybe she's having a bad year, because she didn't show up twice."

S.I. Rosenbaum can be reached at (813) 661-2442 or srosenbaum@sppimes.com.

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