Assistant state attorney serving up justice at any cost

Last week an 89 year old gentleman was taken from his nursing home in Gulf Breeze to be booked into Santa Rosa County jail on the order of Assistant State Attorney James Parker.

In May, Mr. Karl Trugenberger was driving on Highway 98 when he hit a bicycle rider, Michael Rice. The accident left Rice in serious condition at a local hospital.

At 89 years old, should Trugenberger have been allowed to drive? Maybe or maybe not. It is definitely an issue that the Department of Motor Vehicles should look into. Perhaps once you reach a certain age, you should be required to be tested more often to renew your license. But at the time of the accident, he was legally licensed.

Trugenberger is accused of failing to stop and render aid to the victim. He kept going to the post office. A witness followed him and called the Sheriff’s Office. When they questioned him, the report says Trugenberger thought something hit him but when he looked in his rearview mirror he saw nothing and continued on to the post office.

By his son’s account, his car was impounded and a deputy gave Trugenberger a ride home.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. According to Trugenberger’s son Carl, deputies entered the nursing home during the light of day to arrest his father but the nursing home told him he needed 24 hour care and could not be released. They left without Mr. Trugenberger. Last Thursday, at 10:30 p.m. deputies entered the facility and arrested Mr. Trugenberger. He was booked into Santa Rosa County jail.

Carl attempted to call his father and see him and was refused. After 9 a.m. Friday he made three phone calls to speak with his dad – and he was told it was against policy. He went to see his dad at 1:30 p.m. for his first appearance but he was told it had been delayed until 4 p.m.

It was later discovered – after the scheduled arraignment – that around 9 a.m. his father had been transported via ambulance to a local hospital. The jail personnel had ample opportunity to notify Carl, who holds power of attorney for his father, that he was in the hospital.

According to his son, as of press time, his father is extremely confused and disoriented and remains in the hospital.

We must hold Michael Rice high in our thoughts and prayers as a community. He has suffered greatly as a result of this accident and does deserve justice. This should never diminish what he and his friends and family have gone through.

The question in our mind is – do we serve justice at any cost? Do we leverage the same process on a frail nursing home resident as we do everyone else? Was there an alternative way to deal with it?

Mr. Parker, is justice always served so coldly? So Mr. Trugenberger, who says he was not aware he hit anyone, is treated the same as a drug dealer or violent criminal? We find it hard to believe that there is no compassionate justice in this case. Surely Mr. Trugenberger could have been issued a Notice to Appear or arrangements could have been made to arrest him and release him. We have seen it happen. He is obviously not a flight risk, especially when he is under 24 hour care.

It is a tremendously sad day when an 89 year old who, according to his son, has dementia is thrown in the slammer without his son being able to see or talk to him. There has to be a better way.

Mr. Parker, you should have been the one to figure out the better way.

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