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Palm Coast Woman Charged in DUI Manslaughter Was Stopped Moments Before the Crash, and Released

| October 23, 2015

rebecca lawless arrest before crash

Rebecca Lawless.

Thursday evening, Rebecca Lawless, 26, of Palm Cost turned herself in to at the Flagler County jail after a warrant was served for her arrest on a charge of DUI manslaughter over the death of Diane Upton in a wreck on State Road 100 in palm Coast a year ago.


What has never been reported previously, and is not part of the Florida Highway Patrol’s arrest report, is that Lawless, shortly before the Oct. 18, 2014 fatal crash, had been part of a traffic stop at a different location by a Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy. A field sobriety test was started or was about to be started, but was aborted. Lawless was allowed to go on, as long as someone else was at the wheel, even though she had been observed to be drunk by several deputies and had been at the wheel of the vehicle when stopped.

One of the deputies at the scene in that traffic stop knew lawless personally.

A sheriff’s report FlaglerLive obtained states that shortly before the wreck, Lawless was in a traffic stop at Seminole Woods Boulevard and Ulaturn Trail.

The fatal wreck took place around 9:30 p.m. At 8:30 p.m., a deputy was responding to a 911 call that had reported a reckless driver in the area of Seminole Woods. The deputy was observing suspicious activity involving Lawless’s Camry and an SUV that was behind her. Lawless was at the wheel. When the deputy asked her to lower her car window, he “detected signs of impairment.” He ordered Lawless to turn off the ignition and he returned to his patrol car to turn on the emergency lights.

“When speaking with Lawless, I immediately noticed slurred speech and odd eye movements, in addition to what I would call a ‘1000 yard stare,'” the deputy reported. “Once Lawless was out of the vehicle, I smelled a strong odor of alcohol on her breath. She openly admitted to having [redacted] before driving this evening.”

Lawless then “became combative with Deputy Chambers when he requested that she put her phone away and stop trying to call additional unknown persons to the scene,” the report goes on. “She began to pull away when Deputy Chambers reached for her phone and become angry when he finally removed it from her possession. I detained her for officer safety until she calmed down, about five minutes later.”

Her passenger, Kimberly Burgos, 25, was almost asleep and openly admitted to have been drinking.

By 8:37 p.m., additional deputies had arrived at the Seminole Woods Boulevard and Ulaturn Trail. She “appeared to be intoxicated” to the deputy who’d arrived after Lawless had spoken to the first deputy, according to an incident report.

“I smelled a moderate odor of an alcoholic beverage emitting from Rebecca’s breath while I was speaking with her, observed that her eyes were bloodshot and glassy and that her speech was slightly slurred,” the additional deputy reported.

The incident report goes on: “Deputy Chambers advised me that he knew Rebecca personally, so I called for Deputy Barile to respond to the scene to conduct a possible DUI investigation. While Deputy Barile was responding to the scene, Rebecca kept playing with her phone and she was instructed multiple times to put her phone down for our safety. Rebecca refused to put her phone down and she was temporarily secured in handcuffs, before she calmed down after several minutes. Upon Deputy Barile’s arrival on scene, he asked Rebecca if she would consent to Field Sobriety Exercises to determine if she was impaired.”

But no field sobriety test was completed.

“Due to the lack of probable cause for the initial stop, Lawless was released from the stop,” the incident report states. “Furthermore, I was unable to follow the vehicle and directly observe any driving pattern,” the deputy reported.

“I directed Lawless to call a legally licensed, sober driver to drive her and her vehicle home. Lawless called Kimberly’s brother, and her own ex-boyfriend, Jahmar Dunn to drive her vehicle home. While waiting on Dunn to arrive at the scene, Lawless was stumbling around and had difficulty standing on her own. Dunn was driven to the scene by Savannah Russel in a separate vehicle. I held a brief conversation with Dunn and I was unable to detect any signs of impairment. During my conversation I asked if his licence was valid, to which he said yes, and explained that Lawless was too impaired to drive. Lawless also explained to Dunn during the several phone conversations with him that we would not allow her to drive because of her impairment. I observed Dunn get into the driver seat of the Camry and Lawless get into the right rear passenger seat. The Camry the made a right hand turn heading North on Seminole Woods Boulevard with Dunn driving the vehicle.”

Not long after that, Lawless took the wheel again at a Kangaroo station. And minutes after that, she slammed into Diane Upton’s car, killing Upton and injuring Upton’s daughter and granddaughter.

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46 Responses for “Palm Coast Woman Charged in DUI Manslaughter Was Stopped Moments Before the Crash, and Released”

  1. PC Dad says:

    Just shows that knowing the right people will get you out of trouble. Wonder how well Miss Lawless is known to the deputy?

    Sheriff Manfre – do your damn job and fire each and every one of the deputies who did not do their jobs that were involved in this fully avoidable DUI crash.

    Law enforcement is not above the law, the SAO should charge the deputies who let her go as accessories in the death of Diane Upton.

  2. FB Insider says:

    Barile failed to administer tests to the woman, who was clearly impaired and behind the wheel, and let her leave scene. Moments later she hits and kills someone? His badge should be on someone’s desk.

  3. The Truth says:

    The deputy that pulled her over should be charged as well. I don’t care if they ‘knew’ her or not, she was clearly drunk and for some reason they ABORTED the sobriety test and now someone is killed because of it. That’s shameful and disgusting.

  4. Janet Clark says:

    Hope she is held accountable, but I suppose she knows the right people and will get away with murder. Sherriffs Dept. should admit to wrong doing on their part , to. Just because a deputy is friends with someone does not mean they should get special treatment… Their choices led to a deathe and many injuries, Hope this is handled properly from now..

  5. YankeeExPat says:

    Did any of the officers involved in the initial stop of Ms. Lawless have a body camera?…. and consequentially did any who responded to fatal accident have cameras?

  6. snapperhead says:

    “At 8:30 p.m., a deputy was responding to a 911 call that had reported a reckless driver in the area of Seminole Woods. The deputy was observing suspicious activity involving Lawless’s Camry and an SUV that was behind her. Lawless was at the wheel.”

    “Due to the lack of probable cause for the initial stop, Lawless was released from the stop,” the incident report states,”

    A 911 call reporting reckless driving and observing suspicious activity isn’t enough? Find your Floriduh!

  7. confidential says:

    These two deputies are also guilty for not taking this woman in handcuffs for DUI right on the spot. Impounded her car and give a ride to her inebriated passenger back home. DUI kills and the innocent loose their lives for over these drunks.

  8. Anonymous says:

    She’s White and she’s pretty…That’s your lack of probable cause.

  9. blondee says:

    Dig deep Flagler County! I foresee a big lawsuit coming!

  10. all seeing says:

    These guys learned how to police from none other then Big Daddy Fleming. Lets wait for the Jon Dopp spin on it.

  11. Watchdog says:

    Accountability Integrity Respect

    Sheriff…. Where’s the accountability in this….. Where’s the integrity of the deputies involved…..where’s the respect for the victim.

  12. Jack D. Howell says:

    In a word pathetic! Don’t know how FCSO screwed this up. Of course some slime bag attorney will get her off even though she is guilty as sin. Trust the attorney that pulls this off will rot in hell!

  13. shark says:

    I wonder how much money the taxpayers will have to shell out for this???????????

  14. Marshall says:

    This is bullshit. Barile is a good man. He tried to cut a young person making a fucked up decision from suffering the consequences so many other people bitch about while doing probation. But they made sure a sober driver took her away. But you all want to blame somone. So lets blame the cops cause i mean shit they let a sober person drive a drunk person away. Thats a crime they didnt follow them and harrass them to make sure the drunk girl didn’t act like a drunk girl and try to tell her ex bf to fuck off and let her drive.

  15. Sunray says:

    Drinking and driving. A national pastime… I’m sure the family will go also after the officers and the department…what a shame to let this girl go…my mother in law lost her life along with 2 other people the same way…drinking and driving…lock em’ up and keep them there…

  16. Scott says:

    Was there any police supervision at the scene? A drunk driver who repeatly disobeyed police instructions needing to be handcuffed for officer safety and not placed under arrest? you have to wonder why retired cops from other states who moved here call these deputies amateurs.

  17. Dave says:

    Sounds like a nice lawsuit by the victims family. But what I want to know is why it took a year Oct. 18, 2014 for this to come to an arrest.

  18. Ru kidding says:

    “Due to the lack of probable cause” Ah it may be me but this whole report reaks of probable cause.

  19. Jon Dopp says:

    The sobriety test was aborted because the deputy did not feel there was probable cause for the stop in the first place . A 911 call, especially an anonymous one, is not always enough to establish probable cause. The deputy felt that, due to the circstances surrounding the stop, a DUI investigation would have been a violation of Rebecca’s rights because she was unlawfully detained to begin with. They took steps to get her home safely and she returned to the driver’s seat after they left. Had they arrested Rebecca, the charges would have likely been dropped and they would have been chastised by the public for their having violated Rebecca’s rights. Another perfect example of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” In spite of the fact that this example is shown to this community several times a year, the public at large still seems to refuse to understand. But I don’t imagine that these rushes to judgement without facts will stop anytime soon. This practice is becoming an American past time.

  20. Sherry says:

    Thanks, so much, Flaglerlive for digging into this tragic incident and reporting on the outrageous mishandling of the traffic stop just before this completely preventable crash happened! Context Matters! Facts Matter!

    I hope that Flaglerlive will report on of what should have been an investigation into the behavior of ALL the officers at the DUI scene. Where is that investigation Sheriff? Where is the resulting disciplinary action?
    The voters are waiting!

  21. I/M/O says:

    So she was not released only once but twice. First at the traffic stop and then again at the scene of the accident resulting in a Warrant having to be issued for her arrest for DUI Manslaughter.

    I/M/O since she was never properly tested at either scene there is no case against her for DUI/Manslaughter because the Officer failed to collect any evidld be self incriminating himself on the stand under oath.

    It appears to me not arresting her at the scene of the accident was the cover up of the first release.

    “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”

    I see a few resignations being handed in.

  22. Dawn Lycans says:

    Seems like a couple of someone’s need to be held accountable for their actions, a wonderful woman who I was blessed to be able to call my sister has been taken from us and it should have NEVER happened…..

  23. Shi says:

    Very sad for the family members to have lost a loved one.

  24. mclpn says:

    I have read with saddness the tragic events and feel that the person who drove the person away should be questioned as to why he let her take the wheel again all the people failed to follow procedure . The first officeror was the most at fault. hope the person has stopped drinking and driving for good;

  25. Nancy N. says:

    I/M/O – just because they didn’t arrest her at the scene of the accident doesn’t mean that they have no case against her for DUI Manslaughter. Florida state law requires that blood be drawn from all drivers involved in the case of traffic fatalities. Proper procedure would have been for her to be released from the scene, pending charges, while awaiting the blood test results. The results of those tests can take weeks, even months, from the state lab.

    Jack Howell, I don’t see this case has any chance of ending any way but a conviction. Hopefully this young lady has spent the last year of her life getting her life in order, preparing to be away in prison for a very long time. It’s unlikely given the nature of this incident and her previous record that she’ll avoid the maximum penalty.

  26. m&m says:

    The Manfre article below had a few admirers of Manfre’s ability to train police officers. Well now you know the real story.

  27. Anonymous says:

    @ Jon Dopp:

    I wonder about this lack of probable cause. You see, probable cause is the fact that a certain behavior was observed while she was in “Active Physical Control” of the vehicle. A driving pattern is not the only criteria needed. A call was made about the vehicle, contact was made, strange behaviors were observed, she admitted to drinking and was in Active Physical Control of a motor vehicle. Now you’re saying she was unlawfully detained? I don’t think so.

  28. bhartmann says:

    Blood was drawn. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s toxicology report noted a blood-alcohol level of 0.1 blood-alcohol level (the legal limit in Florida is 0.08)

  29. George G says:

    I knew there was more to my sister’s death than pure chance. This should not have happened!. Hopefully, my brother-in-law will get the best attorney available. However, no amount of monetary recompense can replace Diane. She had far more to offer the world,

  30. Barry Hartmann says:

    I/M/O. This is an excerpt from Flaglerlives initial report.
    Blood was drawn. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s toxicology report noted a blood-alcohol level of 0.1 blood-alcohol level (the legal limit in Florida is 0.08).

  31. jbeagles says:

    Who needs courts, when we have so many lawyers and judges in our social networks!

  32. Art Bowles says:

    How about we place the blame where it belongs this time instead of the deputies?

  33. anonymous says:

    Did I read this right??? She was pulled over for something else, Due to lack of probable cause, They couldn’t get her for A DUI? Are they serious? Any other state or city would of arrested her. She was slurring her words. So if the Sheriff pulls you over for A tail light out, and you’re drunk. They can’t get you for A DUI? Wow, Guess ,It does pay to know someone. Shouldn’t be A Sheriff, If you can’t do your job. Hope Internal Affair goes after the Sheriffs who were involved. They could of prevented the accident from happening. If she would of been arrested for DUI.instead of letting A friend go. Prays to the family of loosing A loved one.

  34. Flstbone says:

    She should pay for what she did , don’t blame LEO

  35. One furious mom says:

    Seems to me she was cut a break and abused it. SHE should be held accountable. The officers made sure she left the scene safely and with a sober driver. She should have went home and slept it off. I personally don’t see an issue with how it was handled by anyone BUT the drunk driver. This is the perfect example of damned if you do…damned if you don’t! The bartender is at fault, the cops, the anonymous caller, the passenger, etc. It’s the drivers fault – no-one else.

  36. GT says:

    Just another example of the high level of police training our officers get before pinning on a badge.
    Reminds me of the Mayberry!

  37. The Geode says:

    It seems that they can FIND sufficent “probable cause” to pull over MY Black ass…

  38. mel guillory says:

    Harrell and Harrell, Farah & Farah will be coming soon to Flagler county for their fair share. I see an ad valorem tax increase for the Flagler residents coming soon due to the actions of the deputies that resulted in a life lost!

  39. Swizz says:

    Funny how this was kept quiet all this time. Nice Job uncovering Flagler Live. I think an investigation should be launched immediately. This poor woman would still be alive if she’d have been arrested. Too bad, but I think Barile may end up getting fired.

  40. biker says:

    Had the girl been arrested as she should have been at the first stop ,she would not have been driving on 100 and killing some poor innocent woman one hour later. No matter how you try and spin this. Someone did not do what they are sworn to do and that caused an innocent woman her life. What kind of break was cut to that woman Marhall? The “stupid mistake” took her life.

  41. Jon Dopp says:

    To be clear, I didn’t say that there wasn’t probable cause, I said that I wasn’t there and that there may have not been probably cause.

    @ Anonymous- ” So if the Sheriff pulls you over for A tail light out, and you’re drunk. They can’t get you for A DUI? Wow, Guess ,It does pay to know someone.”

    I actually had this exact scenario about seven years ago. I pulled over a girl for an inoperable tail light. Learned that she was intoxicated during the stop. Her last words to me while I was performing field sobriety exercises were “do I have to do this, we both know I’m drunk.” She then refused to submit to a breath test.

    The case went to a jury trial. She was found not guilty. The hang up for the jury?……. I didn’t see her driving poorly, so how did I know she was drunk? Even when there is probable cause, there isn’t always probable cause. The police are not the only moving part to the justice system, we are just the ones you all see every day. Therefore, we take the blame for all of the system’s failures because we are the only readily accessible part of the puzzle.

  42. jbeagles says:

    It’s very disheartening to read the comments of this tragic event. The opinions stated are what they are but they are based on only the mere facts of the “story” and “emotions” of those commenting. Could this situation have been handled differently? Probably and Maybe. The fact that people are missing is this woman was handed an out and allowed to be taken home, SHE chose to get behind the wheel and someone allowed that to happen and did not call 911 to report it. Put the blame where it needs to be! She made the choice and those called to get her aided in that and failed.

  43. Anonymous says:

    @ Jon Dopp, you can’t base every arrest scenario on what the State Attorneys Office may or may not do with a case or how one thinks a jury would find. That’s their jobs after the officer does his or hers.

    Reality is, cases get dropped all the time for various reasons. Yes it seems it’s one big game being played but that’s the “revolving door” most often referred to. Her case could very well have been dropped or downgraded in the long run but there was enough based on the officers reporting quoted in this article for her to have been taken off the road for that day.

  44. Sherry says:

    I agree anonymous.

    While I can certainly understand the frustration of our law enforcement officers regarding the high number of cases that are never prosecuted/thrown out on a technicality/a jury finds a perpetrator innocent. . . I believe our officers have a responsibility to take those citizens who pose a threat to themselves or others out of the high risk situation by all lawful and reasonable means. Our officers should do this primarily to “protect the public and the individual” in the situation. . . not to act according to whether they think there is a criminal case that can be won.

    I know hind sight is 20/20, but consider the possibility that if, in this case, Rebecca had been tested and arrested for DUI at the original stop, an innocent life would have been saved, and others would not have been injured!

    The next question is why did it take an entire year for this perpetrator to be brought to justice? Why again was she not arrested after the accident?

    Again, I do hope flaglerlive stays on top of this case. . . there are many, many unanswered questions!

  45. observer says:

    This same thing happens all the time on the west side of the county. Cops need to rotate areas so they dont get freindly with locals. Ive seen cops at parties out here just socializing. Not drinking but still its not right.

  46. Hurricanes says:

    I don’t understand, There was A 911 call for someone driving reckless. They pull her over, Has all the signs of drunk driving. But yet they let her go. Cause there was A lack of probable cause. They let her go? Why? Wasn’t there enough probable cause to arrest her for drinking and driving? Because she knew one of them? Doesn’t matter, What you’re pulled over for, If you’re drinking and driving. You’ll be arrested for DUI. Guess, Not here in Flagler. Guess, That’s A new law, I’ve never heard of. How many drunks are gonna be on the roads here, Cause they get pulled over for reckless driving, But let go. Cause of lack of probable cause for the intital stop? If that’s A law, The law needs to be changed. If she would of been arrested, The accident would of never happened. Now A family and friends has lost A love one. Why? Didn’t the Sheriff take her home, If he knew her? Guess, It does pay to know someone.

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