Could Sarasota mom's death been prevented?

11:30 PM, Jan 9, 2012   |    comments
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Donna Chen (left) and her family

SARASOTA, Florida -- A Sarasota man admits to getting sloppy drunk and allowing his buddy to drink and drive on Saturday, January 7, but he says the death of a mother of three could have easily been prevented by deputies with the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office.

Related Story: Troopers: Sarasota runner killed by drunk driver

David Brewer, 24, says he's hurting pretty bad both physically and emotionally. That's after the Florida Highway Patrol says his
buddy, 22-year-old Blake Talman, was driving a Nissan Altima with Brewer in the passenger seat.

Investigators say they were leaving the scene of a hit and run accident they were involved in when they slammed into a woman along Midnight Pass Road around one in the afternoon on Saturday.

That woman was 53-year-old Donna Chen, who was out running with her dog, Barney, when it happened. She died.

Chen leaves behind three children. Her husband, Dr. Wellington Chen, says she was a dedicated mother. "Involved in every part of their lives from serving them tea in the morning to tucking them in at night and making sure their homework was done."

But David Brewer says her death could have been avoided. He says he and Talman, along with Michael Blakey, were approached by Sarasota County Sheriff's deputies at Siesta Key Beach twice in the hours leading up to the accident. Warren Labonte, the snack bar manager, called deputies to say they were being unruly. He says, "They were loud and they had a bottle and they had it under a towel."

A source says Talman used to work at the snack bar, but was fired last week.

Brewer says they started drinking at the beach, which is legal,  around 10 in the morning. He says they shared a liter of spiced rum and then started in on a bottle of whiskey.

"We had the bottle of whiskey on the table the whole time when the cops came and approached us. And then the officers approached us a second time and said, 'I thought I told you to knock it off? Now what's it going to be - do you want to go home? Or do you want to go to jail? Do you know what public intoxication is?'"

Brewer says they said, "'Yes, sir, that's not necessary. We're leaving."

He says Blakey wouldn't cooperate with the deputies, though, and was arrested for disorderly intoxication. Brewer says what happened next with Talman was something he knows was a mistake. "My friend took his keys off his belt loop and a bottle of whisky under his arm and we walked towards the car. They didn't stop us. They didn't approach us at the car."

But the Sheriff's office paints a much different picture, saying the men went back to the beach and didn't drive off.

Wendy Rose, a spokesperson for the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office, says, "The sergeant said as Blakey was being arrested these men approached and asked how long until he can be bonded out. They were told 2-3 hours, and the men stated they would go back to the beach and wait or walk to the village."

Dr. Wellington Chen expresses concern. "If they'd been sterner, if they'd arrested them right at that point and time for having an open alcohol container...it makes me an angry. I've lost a wife. My children have lost a mother."

But Rose adds, "There is no open container law, particularly on a beach where alcohol is allowed. It is also legal to be publicly intoxicated. Disorderly conduct is what crosses the threshold."

While Donna Chen's family was making her funeral arrangements Monday afternoon, Dr. Chen pointed out that she died on his birthday.

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