Paperwork goof allows woman to avoid arrest
By CHRIS TISCH, Times Staff Writer
LARGO -- When police officers found April D. May eight blocks from the car she had just struck, her left foot was dangling out the driver's side window and her head was nestled between the seats.
She was passed out and lying upside down in a van in a West Bay Drive parking lot. The van was in drive, though May's foot was on the brake, police said.
An officer tried to awaken her, but she wouldn't budge. Then she shot up and began "swatting at her own face and arms, as if she had something crawling on her," an officer wrote in a report.
Police found a nearly empty bottle of rum and a homemade crack pipe on the driver's side floorboard.
May's eyes were bloodshot and she smelled of alcohol, police say. She was so unresponsive, officers said, they couldn't give her field sobriety tests.
Paramedics took May to a hospital, where her blood was drawn and sent to be tested.
A week after the March 2000 accident, the results showed her blood-alcohol count was 0.086, just above the legal limit. And she had GHB in her blood, a drug that is known to affect drivers.
The results were forwarded to the Largo Police Department.
But May was never charged with a crime.
Largo police said this week that a clerical error appears to have caused the case against May to slip through the cracks. Though the report was entered into the case file, it was never copied to the investigating officer. Because the officer never received the test results, the case probably slipped his mind and May never was sought for arrest, said police spokesman Brandon Graham.
Because the statute of limitations for a DUI is two years, any potential charge expired two months ago.
The mistake was discovered by an attorney hired by the driver of the car May had struck, Amy Center. She had suffered a 5-inch abrasion to her right calf and complained of pain in her right shoulder and back after the accident. Paramedics treated her at the scene, but she did not request that an ambulance take her to a hospital.
Two years later, Center's attorney, Stan Morse, was preparing to file a civil complaint against May for Center's injuries. But when Morse's investigator tried to research May's arrest and court records, he learned there never had been an arrest.
By all accounts, the slipup was an honest mistake. May wasn't given any type of special treatment. The mistake also appears to be isolated, officials said.
"Largo is usually very good about getting those cases here," said Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett. "They have a tendency to run a pretty tight ship over there."
Police officials said they don't believe such a mishap has ever happened before.
"The results were placed in the case report and not copied to the officer involved or were misplaced," said Chief Lester Aradi. "There's no glaring holes here."
May, 25, could not be reached for comment. Although she was arrested a few times before the March 2000 crash, she has not been arrested in Florida since.
Police are looking to see if they can now charge May with leaving the scene of an accident with injury, a charge that doesn't expire for three years. Bartlett said that may be hard to prove if Center refused medical treatment at the scene.
Graham said officers decided not to arrest May on the day of the crash, partially because they couldn't prove that her behavior wasn't caused by an injury sustained in the crash. They also couldn't perform breath or field tests because of her condition, so they waited to rely on the blood tests.
Morse said he plans to file a lawsuit against May and the car's owner. Center is seeking more than $15,000 for injuries and car damage that occurred during the crash. Morse said Center suffered long-term injuries from the crash, but he declined to say what they were because of attorney-client privilege. He advised Center, 29, of St. Petersburg not to speak publicly about the case.
Morse contacted the St. Petersburg Times on Friday after learning May had not been arrested. The department learned of the error after an inquiry by the newspaper.
"There is frustration, but there is also a realization that police departments are run by human beings and they are never going to be perfect," Morse said. "We hope they strive for perfection, but none of us ever achieve perfection."
-- Times researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report. Chris Tisch can be reached at 445-4156 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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