Brenton M. Hodge is a 55-year-old retired Ormond Beach police officer: he was quick to show his badge to Flagler County Sheriff’s sergeant who’d responded to reports of a crash at U.S. 1 and Seminole Woods Boulevard just after 4 p.m. Sunday. Hodge was at the wheel of a Nissan that had just been severely rear-ended, fumbling through a cooler and the deployed side-air bag as a deputy spoke to him. “This car reeks of booze, man,” the deputy told him.
Minutes later, Hodge was under arrest on a drunk driving and drug charge after allegedly trying to hide a bag of pot under his shirt: more than 20 grams was found on him or in his car. The sheriff’s Sgt. Daniel Weaver had no patience for Hodge’s subtle attempt to brook favor as a retired cop, and let him know it in no uncertain terms.
A witness told a deputy that Hodge’s Nissan had been stopped on the northbound side of U.S. 1, its left blinker on. “It appeared he was intending to make a U-turn but was in the middle or right turn lane,” his arrest report states. The Nissan was stopped for 10 seconds when a silver Mercedes rear-ended it. Visibility was limited due to rain. Eric Ashley Jr., the driver of the Mercedes, told a deputy he was driving north when he saw the Nissan stopped in the road. He changed lanes to go around and continue straight, but then the Nissan changed lanes, causing him to rear end the car.
As Weaver approached the Nissan, Hodge’s driver’s side door was open. He appeared to have sustained some injury.
“Stay in the car for me bud,” Weaver tells him.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Hodge replies. Weaver had asked him what was in a cooler he’d been fumbling with. “Nothing,” came the reply.
Moments later, Weaver says: “Where were you drinking at? This car reeks of booze man.”
“I know,” Hodge says. He then explains: “Because I took my trash out earlier.” The bag had “a lot of beer cans in it, and it leaked on my seat.”
“Why is it coming off your breath?”
“Were you drinking earlier, somewhere?”
“You haven’t drank anything all day?”
“Oh no, I did, earlier, for lunch or whatever.”
Hodge then pulls out his wallet, flashes his badge and says: “I know where you’re going [with this], I’m a retired cop.”
“I appreciate your service, but you were just in a bad crash and you reek of alcohol,” Weaver tells him, not buying the play on the badge.
“I wasn’t moving. I was stopped,” Hodge says, pointing to the spot and explaining he was preparing to make a u-turn to go home. He said he was visiting a friend in Ormond Beach but was going back to the Thunder Gulch campground, where he says he’d been staying for three days. The cop tells him all the debris would suggest he was struck while the car was in a travel lane.
Weaver steps away to discuss the matter with other responders. “He tried to badge me, he’s a retired cop,” he tells one of them. “But that ain’t going to do nothing. So he kind of knew where I was going when I started to ask him all the beer questions.”
As he walks back toward Hodge, with three firefighters next to the car at that point, Weaver immediately notices that Hodge has just grabbed something out of the car, a bag of some sort. They grab the bag from Hodge. “Come on, man, are you kidding me?” a disbelieving Weaver tells him. “Put your hands behind your back.”
“Well, no, I’m going to the hospital,” Hodge says.
“No, we’ll take you to the hospital. You’ll go with us,” Weaver says. “Trying to shove weed down your pants? Are you kidding me? Come on man. Retired cop, right?”
“20 years, huh?” another cop says. ”
“Real great, buddy. Thanks for your service,” Weaver says as the handcuffs audibly grind around Hodge’s wrists.
Hodge wouldn’t answer questions after that. Several cans of Icehouse beer and several cans of Busch beer were discovered in the car. They did not look in the trunk: they could not, without a warrant. At AdventHealth hospital, deputies attempted to test Hodge’s breath, but he appeared to know the score: every time they attempted to let 20 minutes of observation lapse, with nothing going in his mouth, he put a finger in his mouth, re-starting the clock. He was warned that if he did so a third time, it would be considered a refusal. He did so.
“As a former law enforcement officer, he should be well aware of the dangers of drinking and driving,” Sheriff Rick Staly said. “It is disappointing that he thought he could manipulate the situation by showing our deputies his retired badge and trying to stuffing his drugs down his pants. None of his tactics
worked. If you drink and drive in Flagler County, you will go to jail. No exceptions, no excuses.”
The pot allegedly found in his car weighed over 30 grams. He was later booked at the county jail and held on $3,500 bond. Ashley, too, may face charges over marijuana and pills located in his car as well.