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At 5 times the legal limit, woman charged with DUI misdemeanor

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla (WFLA) - A police report states she plowed into four other vehicles last May while driving with a blood alcohol level of .429, five times the legal limit.

Nearly 10 months later, prosecutors just filed a misdemeanor DUI charge against Bernice Belanger of St. Petersburg.

Sitting in his Impala at a traffic light, Charles Bailey only recalls a strong impact.

"That's all I remember. And then I came to," said Bailey.

According to a Florida Highway Patrol report, Bernice Belanger slammed her Ford Explorer into Bailey, causing a five vehicle wreck.

"The car had been traveling, they estimated, about 45 miles an hour when she hit me," explained Bailey. "There was no braking indication at all."

Knocked unconscious briefly, emergency crews rushed Bailey to a hospital.

"They suspected I may have a brain bleed," he said.

Bailey escaped with neck, back and shoulder injuries.

Ten months after this crash, he learned prosecutors plan to arraign Belanger next week on a misdemeanor DUI charge.  

Bailey is not happy.

"It is absolutely wrong," he stated.

"This makes no sense to me," said Bailey's attorney Tom Carey. "The misdemeanor charge is much easier to prove and doesn't require much effort."

Carey lost his first wife to a drunk driver.

"The case should be properly charged. This should be a DUI resulting in serious bodily injury."

According to State Attorney spokesman Frank Piazza, prosecutors can't file a felony charge unless victims show evidence of serious bodily injury such as serious disfigurement or a loss or impairment of a body part or organ.

"I understand where they are coming from because this isn 't the first time I've seen this in my career," said Mothers Against Drunk Driving

Executive Director Larry Coggins.  

Coggins is a former Florida Highway Patrol trooper.

"This is disheartening to victims. You had five vehicles that were tore up. You had two people who were seriously injured that evening and transported for medical attention," explained Coggins.

But in Pinellas County, that doesn't add up to a felony charge. 

"I'm pissed, I really am," said Bailey.

According to Piazza, if the State Attorney's Office receives evidence of serious bodily harm, it will consider upgrading the charge.

If you have a problem you think should be investigated, call our Target 8 Helpline at 1-800-338-0808.

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