DUI teen sues after police fail to arrest him before accident

BRADENTON, Fla. - A teen-age driver seriously injured in an accident is suing the city because a police officer failed to arrest him for drunken driving minutes before the crash.

Richard L. Garcia sued last week, alleging that officers who found him at a 1999 disturbance told him to drive home. He crashed his car minutes later, rupturing his aorta.

''He's got a plastic aorta now. For a (teen-ager), that's pretty wicked,'' attorney Wade Thompson said. Garcia and his mother, Betty Hernandez, are seeking damages, saying his medical bills are nearing $100,000.

City officials have declined to comment.

Police went to a home at 1:20 a.m. Feb. 9, 1999, after a man found Garcia climbing into his stepdaughter's window. She had apparently invited him in, police said.

Thompson said Garcia, then 16, was obviously drunk - he stumbled, his car was parked cockeyed and numerous open beer cans were visible in the vehicle. But the officers let him drive away, he said.

''They walked him to his car and put him in,'' Thompson said. Bradenton officer Robert Semler made no mention in his report that Garcia was drunk. Semler later resigned from the department after admitting a crack cocaine habit.

A few minutes after Garcia drove from the girl's home, he missed a curve and slammed into a tree.

Garcia's blood-alcohol level was found to be double the legal limit for adults and almost 10 times the limit for minors. He later pleaded guilty to drunken driving and received one year probation and a fine.


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