MANATEE COUNTY — In this case, formal charges against the accused are providing no solace to the friends and family of former Braden River High School assistant coach Doug Garrity.
Former football coach Josh Hunter surrendered to authorities Oct. 29 after the State Attorney’s office formally charged him with DUI manslaughter for the March 21 accident that killed Garrity, one of his closest friends.
But despite the answers the office’s investigation revealed, the Braden River community still reels from the loss.
“The entire Pirate family is truly saddened by the events in the last months,” said Principal Jim Pauley. “It’s very sad. Every so often something happens, and it opens up those wounds again.
“They’re coping,” he said of the students. “Young people are resilient. They haven’t really lived long enough to realize how short life can be and that (something) can happen in the blink of an eye.”
The State Attorney’s office issued a warrant for Hunter’s arrest at about noon, Oct. 29, following seven months of investigation. Hunter now is out on $25,000 bond.
“We were aware the investigation was pending, and we were kept apprised of how it was proceeding,” Hunter’s attorney Brett McIntosh said. “We knew in the days leading up to the arrest that it was going to happen.
“There isn’t anybody that has struggled with what happened more than Josh,” he said. “That was one of his best friends, and I think if he could change places with him, he would do it in a heartbeat.”
Hunter, 32, is facing 10 to 15 years imprisonment for a DUI manslaughter charge. A Florida Highway Patrol report states Hunter was driving to Bradenton from a home in Nokomis when his vehicle crashed on the northbound on-ramp from S.R. 681 to northbound Interstate 75. The vehicle overturned, resulting in the death his best friend, Doug Garrity, who was ejected from the truck. Neither Hunter nor the two other passengers suffered injuries. Only Hunter wore a seatbelt.
The FHP report also states Hunter showed signs of impairment at the time of the crash and had a strong odor of alcohol and watery, bloodshot eyes. Numerous Michelob Ultra beer bottles and cans were located surrounding the vehicle, and it was determined Hunter was operating the vehicle with an open bottle of beer in his possession.
An analysis on Hunter’s blood-alcohol level from the night of the accident came back in April as .21. The legal limit is .08.
The incident report also states Hunter overcorrected the vehicle twice, causing it to travel off the roadway and overturn.
Both Hunter and Garrity were coaches of the football team at Braden River. Hunter resigned his coaching position in April and his teaching position in August. He currently works in the construction industry, his arrest report states.
Hunter’s arraignment has been set for Dec. 4, according to the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office. After that, attorneys working on the case formally will begin a period of discovery, in which they explore scientific facts relating to the case.
McIntosh said proving a DUI manslaughter charge requires proving that a person was driving with a blood alcohol level of .08 or higher and the individual’s driving itself contributed to or caused the accident.
“The law requires the driver reacted inappropriately or did something that contributed to the cause of the accident,” McIntosh said. “People will often assume there was alcohol involved, therefore a person must have contributed to the accident. But that’s an assumption.”
McIntosh said he will explore every option to determine whether his client should be held criminally responsible for Garrity’s death, noting current reports show no indication Hunter was speeding or driving erratically.
Additionally, in Hunter’s case, two eye witnesses told police Hunter swerved to avoid hitting a deer just moments before the fatal crash.
“The question is: What role did that unexpected obstacle play in the accident?” McIntosh said. “It is something (that could impact the outcome).”
McIntosh admitted Hunter’s .21 blood-alcohol level is “evidence” of a DUI but said part of his job would be to determine whether Hunter’s blood draw was legitimate. That study would include determining whether the sample could have been contaminated, whether it was stored and tested properly and whether the amount of time that passed between the accident and sampling could have an impact.
McIntosh said the case could take anywhere from six months to one year to conclude.
Pauley said his thoughts and the thoughts of the Braden River community will be with Hunter as his case continues.
“It’s tough; He’s a good man,” he said. “I hope it all works out for the Josh.”
Associate Editor Jen Blanco contributed to this report.
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