A man in a Ford SUV drove the wrong way on the northbound lanes of Interstate 75 early Friday morning, colliding with an eighteen-wheeler in the process. When officers of the Florida Highway Patrol caught up with the driver in a ditch five miles from the collision, they discovered 29-year-old Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Deputy Justin Garrett, allegedly reeking of alcohol.
FHP officers at the scene indicated that the front quarter panel of Garrett’s SUV had been peeled off, and the driver-side door was so badly damaged that he had to exit his wrecked vehicle from the passenger’s side. Garrett, who was not on duty at the time, refused a blood-alcohol test at the scene after FHP officers tracked him down a short distance away from his vehicle.
Deputy Garrett may soon be charged with driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident. He did not speak to reporters after posting a $750 bond and leaving jail on Friday afternoon.
According to a spokesman from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Garrett, from St. Petersburg, joined the force in October 2011. Upon hiring, Garrett was assigned to District Four, which is based in Ruskin. The spokesman indicated that he had one prior vehicular incident, which was when he rear-ended a vehicle in stop-and-go traffic on another stretch of Interstate 75 in March 2014. Garrett indicated at the time that he looked down for a moment, but after looking back up, the collision was unavoidable. The wreck caused over $4,000 in damage to his vehicle, but only minor damage to the vehicle he struck. He was disciplined with a “letter of counsel” and lost take-home car privileges for one work week.
The spokesman said that Garrett was currently suspended without pay while an internal investigation was conducted, which is standard procedure in a case like this.