Good evening! Welcome to our live chat.
Do you have a question about the series? Participate in a live chat with reporter Jacob Carpenter during the forum. He will be joining us here shortly.
Manny Garcia, executive editor of the Naples Daily News, will be the moderator of the forum.
The panel will include:
Sharon Mahar is the mother of 35-year-old Jennifer Jenkins, who was killed in a December 2011 crash in Hardee County involving a drunken driver.
Scott Walter spent about 25 years investigating traffic homicides, including DUI manslaughter cases, for the Florida Highway Patrol before retiring in 2009. He is the founder of Walter Crash Analysis, a private consulting firm in the Orlando area.
Donald Day is a private criminal defense lawyer in Naples with more than 25 years of legal experience. He has prosecuted and represented thousands of DUI defendants, lectured throughout the state on DUI law and tried several traffic homicide cases.
The forum follows the publication of the four-part series, "Free to Flee" - A Daily News investigation into how Florida law enforcement allows deadly drunk drivers to hit the road.
Welcome to our live chat of our DUI forum. I'm Jacob Carpenter, the author of the Daily News' series, "Free to Flee." I'll be posting some of the thoughts from our panel and answering any questions you might have. Thanks for being with us.
Scott Walter, a former traffic homicide investigator with the Florida Highway Patrol, is addressing what can be done better in DUI manslaughter cases. He says troopers need more training and encouragement to stay in the traffic homicide unit.
“They don’t spend the time that is necessary to getting the training they need and the experience they need. They don’t have that interest to make it a lifelong career to make it the best job they can.”
Sharon Mahar described the frustrating wait for an arrest in her daughter's case. She says the investigator in her case was helpful and courteous, but supervisors weren't as supportive and took weeks to review work. “It’s not a system that’s working well.”
Donald Day talks about what he sees as lack of funding and training for FHP, and slow responses to get back lab results. Says we should be looking at possibility of bringing testing back local, mentioning that Collier County had a local lab about 25 years ago. “When we needed blood tests or fingerprints done, it was done locally and in an expedited manner.”
Sharon Mahar is discussing the hold-ups that she's encountered in the court system, and her frustration with the county-by-county difference in case times.
Donald Day addressing the issue of extradition, which came up in the lead story in our series. Says it's a country-by-country matter addressed by treaties. "It's very, very political."
Scott Walter says some prosecutors he's encountered didn't give traffic homicide cases as much focus as other cases with a death, such as murder. Some prosecutors called it "misdemeanor murder," he said. Added that “I had good cases they wouldn’t prosecute because there wasn’t somebody putting good pressure on them.”
Donald Day says he's "been baffled more than once" when suspects haven't been arrested at the scene. “I’m just saying there are more than enough instances to make an arrest.”
Scott Walter says FHP puts a single lead investigator on a DUI manslaughter case, while other agencies (specifically cites Jacksonville Sheriff's Office) put many investigators on it. "They put personnel on that thing and just flood it with whatever needs to get done.”
Donald Day says Collier County Sheriff's Office will wait at hospital for suspect to undergo treatment, then make arrest afterward. Scott Walter said FHP worries about arresting a suspect before or at hospital because FHP would have to pay hospital bills of suspect.
Dan Young, a retired deputy police chief, says it's "outrageous and shouldn't be tolerated" how statewide police have handled DUI manslaughter cases. Says it would "save a lot of grief" for victims' families if cases were handled in a more timely manner.
Donald Day, when asked about the $20,000 bond that was given for the defendant in Sharon Mahar's case: "“Bond varies greatly from every country. The difference between Lee and Collier can be extreme. ... $20,000 is a pretty low bond.”
Scott Walter cites Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and St. Pete Police Department as the only two departments that "do it the right way." “If they can use that as a model for the rest of the departments, I think that would go a great way to making this happen the way it’s supposed to.”
Donald Day: “We can’t just indict the entire system and say there’s this huge problem. Having said that, we can say we know there are cases where there are problems and they’ve been going on for a long time.” Encourages more local lab testing and better support for investigators at the scene.
Thank you everyone for participating in our live chat. Check back at naplesnews.com for a story and photos.