Two Apopka police officers are accused of letting a suspected drunk driver go because the driver didn’t speak English. A witness said the driver was so impaired that he hopped the curb and took out some bushes outside a Family Dollar store on Park Avenue.
Body camera video showed Matthew McEachnie and Heath Wood trying to communicate with the driver, who spoke broken English. The officers found a cooler filled with beer in the man’s back seat, and officials said the man didn’t have valid identification. “(The driver) was obviously impaired, so I called 911,” witness William Gusler said. Gusler questioned why the two officers didn’t arrest the driver and instead told him to call for a ride.
“I would love to do a DUI, but I don't feel like being (eaten) up with 'Oh, well, he didn't understand anything you were saying,’” Wood said moments before McEachnie appeared to shut off his body camera for nearly four minutes. “This is disappointing. We try to rise up a little higher in our professionalism in how we investigate crimes,” Apopka police Capt. Randy Fernandez said. Fernandez said the department wants to be hard on DUIs and not let them go.
On the video, Wood is heard telling a woman on the man’s phone, “He's very intoxicated, he has a bunch of open containers in the vehicle, he said he's been drinking (and) he has no driver's license.” Police said the department has Spanish-speaking officers who can assist in such situation. Fernandez said that will be part of a department-wide review of training.