POLK CITY, Fla. (WFLA) – Ever since Donna Byrne’s arrest for driving under the influence last week, she says her life has been a living hell.
“I feel like I’m under house arrest. I feel like I can’t go out,” said Byrne, from a friend’s small Polk City apartment. “Some people are staring at me. I got some people that are wanting to pick a fight and I don’t want to go out there and fight anybody.”
While DUI’s are not an unusual offense to law enforcement, this case was.
A deputy spotted Byrne apparently weaving on Combee Road in Polk County after getting a call. The deputy stopped Byrne and gave her a field sobriety check. The deputy eventually arrested Byrne and took her horse into custody.
That’s right, Donna Byrne is the woman who made national headlines after being arrested for driving under the influence on her horse named Bo Duke.
Byrne explains she was on the way to the store when things went south.
“I was on my way to J and J Chaps to get myself some spur straps and spurs for my birthday, and I had $40 in my pocket and the cops took it.”
Byrne’s birthday present from deputies? A one way trip to jail and a complimentary mug shot.
Byrne claims she was not drunk when she was stopped.
“They said I was slumped over in the saddle,” said Byrne. “I was scratching my leg.”
But Sheriff Grady Judd doesn’t buy that explanation and stands by the arrest. After the report was released, he offered a stern warning to anyone else who might think about drinking and riding.
“When you mount up your horse in Polk City, Florida, and ride it into town, Lakeland, on Combee Road,” said Judd, “You can be sure of one thing. We’re going to arrest you for DUI if you’re weaving on your horse.”
Craig Whisenhunt is a private attorney who was out of state when the news broke. He heard about the case and knew Byrne needed help. He contacted her and is now representing her pro bono.
Whisenhunt believes the state might have a problem with this case. He says generally the DUI statute refers to a person operating a device, such as a car or a truck. But other “machines” also apply. DUI arrests are not common, but do happen when the offender is on a bicycle, a moped or even a riding lawn mower.
Whisenhunt does not believe this is a case that will hold up in court.
“Whatever this is … it isn’t a DUI,” said Whisenhunt. “By law, a horse rider on the side of the road is to be treated as a pedestrian and a pedestrian can’t readily be DUI. ”