Anchor jailed on DUI charge

A week from retirement, Bob Hite apologizes on newscast.

By THOMAS LAKE, Times Staff Writer
Published November 22, 2007

TAMPA - Bob Hite, the singing, sailing news anchor whose 30 years of service to WFLA-Ch. 8 have been the subject of a monthlong celebration, went to jail Wednesday morning on a charge of DUI. He was seven days from retirement.

What followed was one of the more surreal moments in the annals of the 6 o'clock local newscast: an anchor, in the midst of November sweeps, pausing to announce - and apologize for - his own arrest.

At 6:09 p.m., just after a report on elder neglect, Hite said there would be no clips from his glory days on this broadcast. In their place, he offered remorse.

"I apologize to my family, my friends, and my wonderful co-workers for the pain I've caused them, and to you, the viewers, for letting you down," he said. "I am deeply sorry."

A Tampa police report said that at 1:25 a.m. Wednesday on W Cleveland Street, an officer saw a 2005 Toyota Prius drifting from lane to lane.The officer stopped the Prius and identified its driver as Hite, smelling of alcohol and looking unsteady, with glassy, bloodshot eyes.

In field sobriety tests, Hite showed "numerous clues of impairment," police said. Breath tests showed blood-alcohol levels of 0.127 and 0.124, or about 50 percent higher than the level at which the state presumes impairment.

Don North, news director for WFLA, said the station had no plans to discipline Hite. He said the monthlong tribute to Hite's career would continue, beginning tonight.

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Hite, 60, is a former Marine Corps combat correspondent, a Coast Guard licensed captain, pilot, diver, horseman and marksman. According to his biography on the station's Web site, he develops, shoots and edits nearly all of his stories. He once sang an on-air ode to a 19th century prison in the Dry Tortugas.

He has won seven Emmy awards. He sailed here in 1977, in a 42-foot boat from Chesapeake Bay. Now he will move to Colorado and work on freelance projects.

Colleagues, present and former, had kind things to say.

"Bob is so well liked," said Bill Ratliff, a morning anchor on WFLA, "that while some people may take some perverse joy in seeing him suffer for a while, I think most people will stand behind him."

Gayle Sierens, his co-anchor and close friend, said Hite made an awful mistake. But, "I don't think his career and his life should be judged by this one event."

Forrest Carr, his news director from 2001 to 2005, put it this way.

"Bob is one of the world's great guys. And he'll rise above this."

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Bob Hite was booked at the Orient Road Jail at 3:15 a.m. Wednesday. In his mug shot, he wore a blue Oxford shirt and a tweed jacket and an expression of solemn dignity. He was released at 8:28 a.m., on $500 bail, after nearly seven hours in custody, and he walked outside looking strangely composed for a man who had just spent the night in jail. His hair was flawless.

We know this because a young female reporter from WFLA met him on the sidewalk for a televised interview.

"I feel like the ultimate hypocrite," he said, in a measured baritone, as morning shadows sliced across the concrete behind him. "I'm supposed to be part of the solution, and I'm part of the problem."

Over his left shoulder, beyond the trees, traffic rolled north toward the interstate.

"I'm very much ashamed, of course," he said, pursing his lips into something like a grimace.

"Thank you," the reporter said. "Have a good one."

The clip lasts 31 seconds, and its final frame shows the back of a tweed sport jacket.

Bob Hite is walking off the stage.

Times staff writers Eric Deggans, Shirl Kennedy, Nicole Hutcheson, Abbie VanSickle and Kelley Benham contributed to this report. Thomas Lake can be reached at tlake@sptimes.com or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 3416.