By Joe Johnson
Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Ovita Thornton this week was arrested for DUI, making it the second time in two months that she has been charged with driving while intoxicated.
A lawyer who is representing the District 9 commissioner said that neither incident that resulted in Thornton being arrested was alcohol related.
“The two incidents were not due to drugs or alcohol impairment but were caused by a medical condition about which I am not authorized to discuss,” Athens attorney Douglas Lenhardt said.
The most recent incident was reported at 2:33 p.m. Thursday by a witness who told a 911 dispatcher about an accident with possible injuries to the driver, who had passed out, according to an Athens-Clarke County police report.
A responding officer found that the incident happened at the East Dougherty Street entrance to the Synovus bank parking lot, where Thornton explained that she “could not see the yellow triangle curb” at the parking lot entrance, and so her car struck it.
The officer wrote in the report that Thornton denied having consumed any alcohol, and that she neither smelled alcohol nor saw indications that the commissioner had been drinking.
The officer further wrote that he left the scene after Thornton advised that a family member would be picking her up, but then he “decided” to return and conduct a DUI investigation after her sergeant called her.
Lenhardt said he inferred from the report that the sergeant instructed the officer to return for an investigation because Thornton already had a DUI case pending in court.
Upon returning to the scene the officer activated her patrol car’s blue lights because Thorton was preparing to drive away, according to the report, which notes that the first thing the officer asked the commissioner was “if she had any prior DUI in the past.”
The report further indicates that after exiting her car Thornton “was a little unable to keep her balance.”
After again denying that she had consumed alcohol, Thornton consented to roadside sobriety tests, which the officer said the commissioner failed due to jerkiness in eye movement and an inability to completely maintain balance.
Lenhardt said his 71-year-old client failed the tests because of her age.
Thorton took a break from the tests, saying that she could not go on and telling the officer that she wanted to be breath or blood tested for alcohol.
After arresting Thornton for DUI and failure to yield when turning left, the officer drove her to the hospital blood to be drawn for testing and then to the county jail.
Lenhardt said his client spent te night in confinement because of a rule that someone arrested for a second DUI must appear before a judge at a bond hearing.
In Magistrate Court on Friday Thornton was granted a $2,500 bond and she was released from jail at 10:36 a.m.
The attorney predicted that Thornton will be “completely exonerated when results from the blood testing are known.
The commissioner’s first alleged DUI incident occurred the evening of Feb. 20 when she was driving home from a restaurant where she admittedly had something to drink. A police report indicated that Thorton’s car struck a curb and utility pole near West Hancock Avenue and North Harris Street.
The responding officer noted in the police incident report that Thornton had an odor of alcohol about her, and her speech was slurred. The commissioner reportedly ignored or refused to comply with instructions, resisting attempts to handcuff her and kicking an officer in the chest when being placed into a police car.