Sheriff nabs speeder, but doesn't check license
By THOMAS LAKE
Published June 8, 2006
On a clear Saturday afternoon last month, Randall Kernan and his yellow Mustang hurtled down State Road 54.
A siren split the air.
There were no firetrucks in sight, no patrol cars. The vehicle behind him was an unmarked white Chevrolet Tahoe. Kernan had been chased down by Pasco County Sheriff Bob White, known to dispatchers as Unit One.
White, a former state trooper who still makes occasional traffic stops, did almost everything right. He chastened a speeder. He followed protocol for pursuit. But in a departure from typical agency procedure, he let Kernan go without having a computer check run on his driver's license.
If he had, White would have discovered that Kernan shouldn't have been driving. Kernan, a 45-year-old Hudson resident, is a felon with a long history of vehicular offenses. His license was suspended indefinitely last December.
White was out of town with family Wednesday and, through spokesman Kevin Doll, declined a request for an interview.
"For whatever reason," Doll said, "he doesn't know why, he didn't run his license."
Here's how the May 13 chase played out, according to agency records and an interview with Kernan:
After finishing a college class in Plant City, Kernan raced back to make his 11-year-old son's soccer game. He was late, and he admits he was speeding. Around 12:45 p.m., near the Oakstead subdivision, he accelerated past White's Tahoe.
White saw the Mustang weaving, hitting the median, kicking up dust. He thought the driver might be impaired, so he sped up to check things out. He flipped on his flashing lights, cranked the siren and radioed dispatch to say he was in pursuit.
As the vehicles approached Gunn Highway, they were going nearly 90 mph.
Kernan finally pulled over after about 3 miles. White let him off with a speeding ticket.
"He was polite, courteous, really a gentleman," Kernan said.
Hours later, Doll said, a deputy finishing paperwork on the incident checked Kernan's license and found it was suspended. When White learned about it, he told deputies to write Kernan a new ticket and confiscate his license. They did not do so until five days later.
Things could have gone worse for Kernan that day. The pursuit lasted nearly three minutes, records show, and White could have charged him with fleeing or attempting to elude.
But he didn't, according to his report, because the glare and the love bugs on his windshield convinced him that Kernan hadn't seen his flashing lights.
In an interview with the Times, however, Kernan gave this reason for pulling over:
"I looked up and seen the lights."
[Last modified June 8, 2006, 06:58:45]