April 16, 2014

Elyria
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Lorain police officer faces DUI charge

LORAIN — Police officer Todd Hite is due in Lorain Municipal Court today after being charged with drunken driving.

Hite was one of 12 drivers arrested by troopers from the Ohio Highway Patrol’s Elyria post between 6 p.m. Wednesday and 6 a.m. Thursday during drunken driving deterrence patrols. The night before Thanksgiving and the early morning hours of the holiday are considered the biggest drinking night of the year by police, and extra troopers were on patrol on overtime.

Trooper Clifton Dowell stopped Hite on Broadway near Elyria Avenue at 12:23 a.m. Thursday for driving 38 mph in a 25 mph zone, according to Lt. Anne Ralston, a patrol spokeswoman in Columbus. Ralston said Dowell smelled alcohol on Hite and asked him to take a field sobriety test.

Hite refused to take the test and also refused to take a urine test. Ralston said police have the option of asking suspected drunken drivers to take a blood, breath or urine test. Refusal triggers an automatic one-year driver’s license suspension.

Hite was carrying a pistol on him when stopped and had two long guns in the trunk of his car, according to Ralston. She said the guns were confiscated and turned over to Lorain police.

It is a fourth-degree felony in Ohio to carry a loaded, concealed gun in a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.

Ralston said police are looking into whether to charge Hite with improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle.

Hite was hired in October 2011, and his starting salary was scheduled to increase to $47,460 after he passed his one-year probation. Hite, who didn’t return a call Monday, was released on his own recognizance rather than being booked and jailed. That is standard procedure for drivers with clean records, Ralston said.

Police Chief Cel Rivera said Hite is on desk duty until a judge decides whether he will have driving privileges at work while his case is adjudicated. Rivera said he hadn’t seen the arrest report and couldn’t comment on specifics of the case, but he said an internal investigation is under way.

Officer James Wolford was the last Lorain officer charged with drunken driving after he struck a parked truck while off duty Dec. 20. Wolford was convicted July 2 of lesser charges of failure to maintain physical control and failure to control. Rivera said a decision on whether Wolford will face departmental discipline will be made after he returns from medical leave.

In general, Rivera said officers convicted of drunken driving for the first time receive a five- to 10-day suspension without pay. They may also receive counseling or therapy depending on the case circumstances.

Rivera said officers are issued an off-duty pistol in addition to their service pistol and encouraged to stay armed while off-duty in case they witness a crime. However, officers know that it is illegal for them to be armed while drinking alcohol or to drink and drive.

“It’s definitely not the message we want to send,” Rivera said. “We enforce these laws so we don’t want our police officers violating them, but they’re human.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.