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Manager of bank pleads no contest

Patrick Fitzpatrick was arrested April 21 on charges he ran a red light and slammed into a car, then left the scene. He faced two misdemeanor charges.

By CARRIE JOHNSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 12, 2001


INVERNESS -- Patrick Fitzpatrick quietly put an end to his very public faux pas by pleading no contest to charges of leaving the scene of a car wreck and reckless driving.

Fitzpatrick, the branch manager of Citrus Bank in Crystal River and a member of the Citrus County Mosquito Control Board, was arraigned Thursday on the two misdemeanor charges. He was represented by his brother, Inverness lawyer Richard "Spike" Fitzpatrick.

According to his plea agreement, Fitzpatrick must serve six months of probation, perform 40 hours of community service, pay $300 in fines, undergo testing for alcohol and drugs and attend a defensive driving course.

But it could have been much worse: If Fitzpatrick had been convicted of the two charges against him, he could have spent 150 days in jail and paid $1,000 in fines.

A plea of "no contest" means the defendant does not admit guilt but concedes that prosecutors have enough evidence to convict him.

Fitzpatrick was arrested the night of April 21 on charges he ran a red light in his white pickup truck and slammed into a green Ford car at Turkey Oak Drive and Citrus Avenue.

According to police reports, Fitzpatrick drove away from the wreck and returned to his home.

A passenger in the Ford, Dawn Lacascio, 30, of Beverly Hills, said she was hurt in the 7:30 p.m. crash and was diagnosed with whiplash by doctors at Citrus Memorial Hospital.

Crystal River Police Sgt. Mack Ballard wrote in his report that he strongly suspected Fitzpatrick was drunk at the time of the wreck. Witnesses said they saw Fitzpatrick's truck weaving back and forth across the highway, and the officer who retrieved Fitzpatrick from his home said his breath smelled strongly of alcohol and his speech was slurred.

But Fitzpatrick told officers he did not start drinking until after he reached his home, after his brother advised him to relax, have a few drinks and cooperate with police.

Spike Fitzpatrick has said he did not talk to his brother until after he returned to the scene of the wreck.

Ballard did not arrest Fitzpatrick. He said it was because he couldn't determine when Fitzpatrick started drinking, and because the police department was understaffed that night and he didn't want to leave the city in the hands of a rookie police officer while he was tied up at the jail.

Chief James Farley is holding an internal investigation into Ballard's actions. Farley was not in his office Friday and could not be reached for comment, said Sue Guido, the department's records clerk.

Patrick Fitzpatrick and Spike Fitzpatrick did not return calls left at their businesses yesterday.

Lacascio, the passenger who said she was injured, was disappointed with the sentence, saying she felt it let Fitzpatrick off too easily.

"It seems to me that you're a lot better off leaving the scene of an accident rather than stick around and get caught for drunk driving," she said. "It sends the wrong message."

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