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Busted for DUI, video shows state senator asking to speak to sheriff

ORLANDO -- A state senator suspected of drunk driving repeatedly asked to talk with the local sheriff and refused to answer officers' requests that he take a breath-alcohol test, according to a videotaped recording.

Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, was arrested early May 9 after a Maitland police officer spotted Constantine drifting in and out of lanes and smelled alcohol on his breath, according to a police report

In a four-minute videotaped session at Orange County's DUI test center, a visibly despondent Constantine asked 10 times to speak with Sheriff Kevin Beary. The tape was released Monday.

``I would like to talk to Kevin Beary first,'' Constantine said on the tape when told his license would be suspended for a year if he refused to submit to the test. ``I don't believe that I was impaired and I'd like to talk to Kevin Beary.''

``Kevin is my friend,'' the 51-year-old Constantine said at one point. ``I'd like to talk to him.''

``That would be very nice,'' one of the officers off camera told Constantine, ``but that's not an option at this time.''

In the end, Constantine's refusal to answer the question with a yes-or-no response was taken as a refusal to submit to the Breathalyzer test.

The videotaping was done after Maitland Officer Monte Ertel said Constantine took a series of field sobriety tests and was arrested. Constantine was later released from the Orange County Jail on $500 bail.

The tape was released by Orange-Osceola State Attorney Lawson Lamar's office after a public-records request.

A phone message left Tuesday for Constantine was not immediately returned, and his office referred questions to attorney Mark NeJame.

``What was he doing by asking for him (Beary)? He has a relationship with him and was simply wanting his advice as to what he should do,''NeJame said. ``He wasn't asking for any favors. He was out there attempting to make the best, informed decision he could for the situation he was in. He was not exerting any level of influence.''

Sheriff's Office spokesman Jim Solomons said people arrested for DUIs often refer to elected officials and people in power when they are arrested. Sometimes they'll threaten to have an arresting officer's job, he said.

``They'll say, 'I know so and so,''' Solomons said. ``It's not unusual. I don't know what his motive was or why he was so insistent.''

Constantine pleaded no contest to DUI in 1990, while he was still an Altamonte Springs city commissioner.

Copyright © 2004, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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