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Arrest imperils Internet grant

A Lecanto High teacher who won a $350,000 award to head an "Internet Academy'' is arrested in March after celebrating and crashing his car. His arrest threatens the grant's future.

By JAMIE MALERNEE and BARBARA BEHRENDT

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 11, 2001


LECANTO -- Lecanto High School teacher Bob Chambers was ecstatic when he learned he won a $350,000 grant to head up a new "Internet Academy" teaching students computer skills.

So excited, in fact, that he decided to drive to a favorite bar and celebrate, Chambers would later tell police.

But his sense of accomplishment would soon prove short-lived.

After playing a few games of pool and downing about six beers the evening of March 31 at GP's Pub in Hernando, Citrus County sheriff's officials say the computer teacher crashed his sedan while driving home. He was taken to jail, facing charges of drunken driving, leaving the scene of an accident and possession of drug paraphernalia after a homemade marijuana pipe was found in his car, records said.

Chambers, who remains on the job, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. But school officials say his arrest threatens not only his career, but the future of the Oracle Internet Academy grant, a state award that partly hinged on who would be teaching the course.

"A big part of the initial application process had to do with having a qualified teacher," said Kelly Tyler, the district's coordinator of vocational, adult and community education. "We're just going to have to see how everything works out with this. We're going to do everything we can to keep this project."

Superintendent David Hickey vowed on Tuesday not to lose the grant. He said he would consider finding someone else to head up the program. "We worked hard to get that program," he said. "We have very capable people, and we will find a way to keep this."

Whether Chambers will keep his $26,000-a-year teaching position is uncertain.

According to records, several people at the bar the night of March 31 told Chambers he was too drunk to drive -- but he told them he felt fine. While driving on Crystal Boulevard, just south of State Road 44 and west of Independence Highway, Chambers took a curve too fast and lost control of his car. He smashed into a wall as he turned onto Border Avenue, reports said. He received minor injuries, and the car had about $250 in damage.

A witness said she saw Chambers walking away from the accident and stopped him, forcing him to go back while sheriff's officials came. Chambers later told authorities that he had been going to a pay phone to report the accident.

When a deputy arrived, Chambers admitted drinking five or six beers at the bar, records said. The deputy noted that Chambers' speech was slurred, his eyes bloodshot and he could not keep his balance. He failed all sobriety tests -- except the one that required him to recite the alphabet. His blood alcohol level tested at 0.153 and 0.149, reports said. A blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent is the threshold at which Florida law presumes someone is unable to drive safely.

Later, while Chambers was booked in the jail, officers noticed he was trying to throw something on the floor. It was a pipe, they said. Chambers then told the deputy that he had a disease and that he had to smoke marijuana as the only means of relief. He was released from jail the next day.

Records show that this was not Chambers' first arrest. In 1997, Chambers was charged with disorderly conduct and criminal mischief by Clearwater police, state records show. He later pleaded no contest in court and a formal finding of guilt was withheld.

Hickey said a decision on Chambers' case would be made by looking at his "individual situation."

"Obviously some situations are going to have more of an impact than others," he said. "We don't like to see people having problems and making bad decisions. But it's happened so we just react to it."

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