New Port Richey driver accused of drinking, texting before crash

Published Jul. 4, 2012

NEW PORT RICHEY — Benjamin Potocki's wife was out of town, he said, so he went to Mugs & Jugs and drank three Miller Lite beers in an hour and half.

Then shortly after 9 p.m. Monday, his Dodge Ram rammed a stopped car at U.S. 19 and Main Street, causing a four-car pileup, authorities said. Only it wasn't the alcohol, the 33-year-old construction worker told police.

He said he'd been "texting and not paying attention," according to a New Port Richey police report.

The officer noticed Potocki's dazed expression, bloodshot eyes and slurred speech, along with the "obvious odor" of booze on his breath, the report said. Tests showed blood alcohol levels of 0.15 and 0.146, nearly twice the threshold at which Florida law presumes impairment.

"It was a perfect storm," New Port Richey police Chief James Steffens said of the dangerous combination of alcohol and texting behind the wheel. "This is a very good example of something being 100 percent preventable."

Texting while driving remains legal in Florida, but the issue has been hotly debated.

"I think it will be for a long time to come," Steffens said.

Even so, he said, a texting driver can still be charged with careless driving. "We look at all the contributing factors to a driver's actions on the road," he said.

Potocki was arrested on one count of driving under the influence and three counts of driving under the influence and causing property damage. He was released early Tuesday from the Land O'Lakes jail on bail totaling $2,000. Damage to the vehicles was estimated at $21,500.

He did not return a phone call for comment.