Wrong Turn

Florida police say Chronicle columnist Fran Blinebury got "lost" after dinner and drinks, smashed into a police car and left the scene

When the U.S. Olympic hockey team flopped badly in Japan, sports columnists across America were quick to castigate the athletes for partying instead of practicing.

Players were seen out late at night at bars, and after the team was eliminated, some members went on what was described usually as a "rampage," causing $1,000 in damages to their hotel (which, given hotel prices in Japan, probably means they broke a few ashtrays and a water glass).

Among those pompously tut-tutting was the Chronicle's Fran Blinebury: "American hockey players cover themselves with shame," read the headline on his February 20 piece. The team was "a fitting impersonation of the Dallas Cowboys, another high-profile, underachieving bunch of party animals," he harrumphed.

Players "went about their jobs like they were full of themselves by hitting the streets hard every night and getting themselves full at each club and bar they passed," he said. He added -- unfortunately enough, for those who prefer good writing -- that the team "figured it could paint the town redder than the circle in the middle of the Japanese flag" and still win.

A month later, Blinebury's indignation seems, as he might write, "as ironic as the irony in a really ironic play, or movie."

Blinebury, in Florida to cover the regionals of the NCAA basketball tournament, turned in quite a little party performance of his own early March 22, getting arrested for driving under the influence, careless driving and leaving the scene of an accident.

Blinebury was tooling along about 1:45 a.m. in the St. Petersburg suburb of Largo when he sideswiped a police car that was parked on the side of the road -- overhead lights flashing brightly -- as officers investigated an unrelated DUI.

Blinebury continued on after the collision, Largo police spokeswoman Allison Griffiths says. "A witness who had been following him because he didn't appear to be driving too well kept following him because it didn't look like he was stopping," she says. "Our witness encouraged him to stop."

How the 21-year-old male did so isn't clear, but Blinebury finally pulled over, one-tenth of a mile down the four-lane divided highway, she says.

The 44-year-old sports columnist said he was driving because his passenger was too drunk to do so, she says. Since Blinebury blew a .154, nearly twice Florida's legal limit of .08, the unnamed passenger must have been trying out for the Olympic hockey team.

Griffiths says Blinebury told officers he had had "dinner and drinks" and had gotten lost looking for I-275. "He was way, way west of where he should have been," she says. "He was very lost."

The Chronicle dutifully reported the incident -- in a one-paragraph story on the sports-section page that is crammed daily with tiny-print statistics.

The blurb -- a mere fraction of the size the paper devotes to breathless reports on every obscure journalism award won by staffers -- showed up between brief stories on a women's tennis tournament in The Woodlands and a local senior women's amateur golf competition. So chances are pretty good, one would think, that Blinebury's many fans missed it.

The outspoken columnist, who did not return a call seeking comment, is being uncharacteristically shy on the subject. Those listening to Blinebury's radio show on KPRC-AM were baffled by an exchange that occurred the day the story hit print. A caller's question was bleeped -- actually, listeners heard four or five seconds of dead air -- and then Blinebury responded, "The matter's in litigation, and my attorney tells me I shouldn't talk about it."

The other hosts then proceeded to rip into the caller for launching a "cheap shot," especially after he had told the show's screeners he planned to talk about the Rockets. (To Blinebury's credit, he shrugged off the call and didn't join in the criticism.)

First-offense DUI is a misdemeanor in Florida and carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail. So does the charge of leaving the scene; careless driving is merely a traffic ticket. Blinebury had not been arraigned by press time.

Contact Richard Connelly at Rich_Connelly@ houstonpress.com.

 
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