A truck swerves down the roadway, forcing motorists off the road. Others, outraged by the impaired driver, witness a potential disaster in the making. They call 911.
The out-of-control vehicle eventually skids onto the shoulder, sliding 94 feet before smashing into a sign and traveling another 79 feet before coming to rest near an intersection.
The driver, a woman, staggers out of the vehicle to inspect the damage.
Witnesses report that she's obviously drunk. Someone takes her keys so she won't get back in the truck and drive off, putting more innocent motorists at risk.
There's an empty open container of wine and another full one in the truck. She smells of alcohol. She dances in the street, lies face down in the ditch, asks witnesses if she "hit" anybody.
One witness told Hernando Today that "you could tell she was drunk from 100 yards away."
The driver of the truck, Emily Vernon, 39, finance director for the Hernando County Sheriff's Office, tells authorities that she was messing with her iPod, wasn't paying attention, when she wrecked her truck.
Vernon walks away from the incident uninjured and, more amazingly, free from arrest.
When deputies of the Hernando County Sheriff's Office failed to administer field sobriety and blood alcohol tests, they made a mistake. At the very least, the problem now is public perception. At worst, it's a cover-up.
Even though Vernon has since been charged with DUI with property damage, the lack of tests administered at the scene will make the case difficult, if not impossible, to prosecute. How do you convict someone of driving under the influence when there is no evidence other than witnesses who say she appeared intoxicated?
Deputies based their decision not to conduct field sobriety tests because they could not put Vernon behind the wheel of the truck, even though her statements admitted she was driving. Added to that, the accident investigator didn't arrive at the scene until an hour and 24 minutes after the call came in - a long time to sober up. Also, many of the witnesses had left the scene once deputies arrived, expecting that Vernon would be hauled off in handcuffs.
That didn't happen. Nothing happened.
When witnesses read in Hernando Today that Vernon was neither arrested nor charged, they became angry and stepped forward to tell their stories.
Sheriff Richard Nugent later defended the actions of his deputies and dismissed claims of a cover-up as totally unfounded. The sheriff has consistently shown a high level of ethics and integrity in his department and decision-making. If he says there's no cover-up, we believe him.
Still, it's hard for the public to swallow.
Our question: What if the deputies had conducted field sobriety tests and arrested Vernon? Would the case have been thrown out? Would Vernon's rights somehow have been violated?
We doubt it.
Vernon's subsequent arrest and charges confirm that.
When dealing with sheriff's department employees, especially law enforcement officers, they are held to a higher standard. The public demands it.
While the public's perception in this case won't have any determination in Vernon's innocence or guilt, it has a sledge hammer effect on the integrity of the sheriff's department.
You can't put a value on that.