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Woman charged for letting friend drive drunk, resulting in deadly crash: Polk Sheriff

DUI crash
Posted at 10:56 AM, Jan 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-13 23:20:21-05

BRANDON, Fla. — Two women are facing charges related to a deadly crash on I-4 in November. Authorities said one woman is charged with DUI manslaughter and the other is charged with culpable negligent manslaughter for letting her friend drive, knowing she was intoxicated.

The Polk County Sheriff's Office announced the negligence charge against Michelle English, 45, on Thursday, Jan. 13.

"She directly contributed to the death of our victim by allowing Ms. Bruno to have those keys and to drive away from the Wawa station despite the fact she was intoxicated," said Sheriff Grady Judd.

The department previously announced DUI manslaughter charges against Lucretia Bruno, 46.

Sheriff Judd said it's the first time this type of charge has been brought in a situation like this in 70 years in Polk County.

According to the sheriff's office, on Nov. 24, Bruno hit and killed a man from Holiday on I-4. It happened at 8:45 p.m.

The sheriff's office said the man was standing outside of his pickup truck after a minor crash with another vehicle when he was hit. The man died at the scene.

Bruno, of Lakeland, told deputies after the crash that she was driving home from a bar where she drank five or six beers, the sheriff's office said. In an affidavit, deputies at the time said Bruno smelled of alcohol, had watery eyes and slurred speech.

The sheriff's office said a blood test showed Bruno's alcohol level was .207 grams per 100ml of blood. The legal limit in Florida for DUI is 0.08 grams per 100ml.

Now, the sheriff's office is adding additional context to the crash. On Thursday, authorities said English, of Brandon, gave Bruno back her car keys to drive home after she was directed by Lakeland Police Officers not to.

The sheriff's office said nine minutes after English gave Bruno her keys, the fatal accident happened.

According to a press release, Bruno and English were out together on that Wednesday evening. They first met at Brewlands Bar and Billiards where authorities say Bruno began to drink at 4 p.m.

An hour later, the two women left and separately drove to Lucky's Bar where the sheriff's office said Bruno continued to drink. The sheriff's office released security footage from the bar that shows Bruno unstable on her feet.

Bruno left Lucky's around 7:40 p.m. and drove to a WaWa in U.S. 98 North in Lakeland, authorities said. There she ordered a sandwich and security footage shows her struggling to get her credit card out to pay for the item.

The sheriff's office said the clerk tried to take Bruno's keys from her but Bruno pulled them back. Bruno later went into the WaWa's bathroom where the sheriff's office said she dropped the keys. She went back out to her vehicle without the keys, which another customer found and returned to the clerk at the register.

At that point, authorities said a WaWa employee called Lakeland Police to report a drunk person. When officers got to the WaWa, the sheriff's office said they found Bruno had thrown up on herself.

The officers were unable to arrest Bruno at that time for DUI because she didn't have her keys and they were unable to show evidence of her being in control of the vehicle, according to the sheriff's office.

Officers called English, who authorities said agreed to pick up Bruno and take her home. Officers told the WaWa clerk to not return the keys to Bruno until the following morning.

The sheriff's office said officers stayed at the Wawa until they watched English drive out of the parking lot.

"I applaud the people at Wawa. They went above and beyond their duty and responsibility to try and stop that lady from driving that motor vehicle," said Sheriff Judd.

After the officers left, the sheriff's office said English returned to the Wawa, went inside and got Bruno's keys. Authorities said the clerk believed English was picking up the keys to retrieve the car.

English gave the keys to Bruno and let her drive, the sheriff's office said. Nine minutes after she left the Wawa, authorities said Bruno hit and killed the victim on I-4.

"Both of these women are responsible for this senseless death," Sheriff Grady Judd said. "If English had been a good friend she would have never let Bruno behind the wheel of a vehicle. Instead, nine minutes and seven miles after handing her intoxicated friend the keys to her car, a man's life was needlessly lost."

English was arrested on Wednesday in Hillsborough County. The Polk County Sheriff's Office said her criminal history includes four felonies for driving on a suspended license (habitual offender), child abuse, fraud and grand theft.