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Driver was impaired in fatal crash, FHP says

Parents of two dead teens express outrage that bail was reduced for Robert Stires.

By ROBERT KING

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 26, 2000


BROOKSVILLE -- The man charged with DUI-manslaughter in the traffic deaths of teenagers Danielle Werner and Chelsea Druzbick had a blood alcohol level of 0.176 right after the accident, according to a Florida Highway Patrol report, more than twice the 0.08 level at which someone is presumed to be impaired.

A Florida Highway Patrol investigation concluded that Robert Alan Stires was impaired and that the Feb. 19 accident occurred because he ran a red light.

Yet, in the chaotic moments after the accident, two people who came to the scene from a nearby bar said Stires immediately blamed the crash on the driver of the other car, Danielle Werner. That "dumb b---- ran the red light," he said, according to statements given by Ronald James Greene and Jennifer Fitts.

Still, Stires told authorities he had "three or four beers" at the Connection, a Brooksville bar, hours before the accident. He was also seen by a friend at Miss Kitty's Hilltop Lounge in Brooksville, though that friend did not see Stires take a drink there.

Stires, 31, of 19380 Oakdale Ave. in Brooksville, has been charged with two counts of DUI-manslaughter in the deaths of Werner and Druzbick. He faces a third charge, DUI with serious bodily injury, for the injuries suffered by Jennifer Smith, who survived the wreck.

If convicted on all charges, Stires could face up to life in prison, prosecutors said. Arrested Monday, Stires was freed Tuesday on $10,000 bail. Originally, the bail was listed at $130,000. But County Judge Peyton Hyslop lowered it at Stires' first appearance hearing.

That decision, and Stires' release from jail, left the teens' families outraged.

"What the hell is the state of Florida waiting for him to do, kill a couple more families?" said Werner's father, Stanton Werner. "My daughter is in the grave. He's in jail one night. This is justice?"

The families' outrage was stoked at the hearing when they learned that Stires has a long list of previous traffic offenses. That includes two crashes and one previous DUI. In all, records show 14 traffic violations since 1989.

"I'm at a loss for words except for the fact that I am disappointed that he was put out on $1,000," said Barbara Harvey, Chelsea Druzbick's mother. She was referring to the 10 percent that is normally put up to free someone whose bail is set at $10,000.

Stires could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Calls to his home were not returned, and the man and woman who posted his bail declined to comment.

In its investigation, the patrol looked into Stires' claim that Werner ran the red light early that morning at U.S. 98 and State Road 50. Investigators also considered that people at the scene heard Smith, a front-seat passenger in the teens' car, say, "We fell asleep; I knew I should have stayed awake to keep them awake."

But after looking at the crash marks on the road and a statement from a driver who witnessed the accident, the patrol concluded that Werner, not Stires, had the green light. As Werner's car turned left, Stires' Jeep came through the intersection and, with brakes screeching, slammed into the car, the report concluded. As for Smith's remarks about falling asleep, Assistant State Attorney Bill Catto said Smith was asleep at the time of the wreck and could not have known if the other girls were awake. Earlier that night, the girls had discussed the need to stay awake to help Werner remain alert, according to the FHP report. The accident occurred at 12:40 a.m., as the girls were coming from a Korn concert they attended in Lakeland.

Investigators found that Werner, the 19-year-old Hernando High senior, had a clean driving record. Smith, one of her passengers that night, referred to her as "overly cautious."

At her parents' insistence, she had practiced a dry run over the route with her mother the day before the concert. And just 35 minutes before she died, Werner had called her parents from a roadside store and said she was on her way home.

Druzbick, a 16-year-old Central High student whose father, John, is a School Board member, suffered head injuries. She died five days after the accident at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa.

Smith, whom the investigation found to be the only person in the accident wearing a seat belt, suffered a bruised right knee, a broken collarbone and some lower back pain.

Though he was not wearing a seat belt, Stires suffered only a cut to his face and an injury to his right leg, according to the accident report. He also smelled of alcohol, according to FHP trooper Ricky J. Peters, who investigated at the scene.

A roofer by trade, Stires said he went to a bar called the Connection on the evening of the accident. He had three or four beers after work, according to statements attributed to him by investigators.

Then he went home, did some laundry and took a shower before leaving for his girlfriend's house. On his way, Stires said he stopped at a Hess station and had two hot dogs and a bag of potato chips.

About 2 1/2 hours before the accident, Stires was seen at the Hilltop by friend Jerry Wayne Parker, Jr. But Stires did not appear to be drunk, Parker said. And during their brief conversation, Parker told investigators, Stires was not drinking.

At Tuesday's court hearing, Catto said he wanted Hyslop to set a high bail because he feared that Stires might try to drive again. Instead, Hyslop set bail at $10,000. Stires was free by mid-afternoon.

Hyslop did place two additional conditions on the bail: that Stires does no driving and that he not drink alcohol to excess.

That Stires has been driving at all, with his litany of past offenses, has members of the teens' families disgusted and dumbfounded.

Catto said Stires' record of driving offenses is long, but he has seen people driving with longer records. At the time of the crash, Stires had a valid driver's license, Catto said. That could simply be attributed to the fact that the offenses were spread out over several years and points that accumulate on a driver's record are removed over time.

That's no comfort to Stanton Werner, who can't help but think of his daughter, Danielle, and her friend Chelsea.

"They're in the ground because of some low life who was given another chance to kill somebody," Werner said. "It's like a slap in the face. This is what justice gets."

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