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Published: Thursday, 12/7/2006

Cornerstone's Pastor Pitts charged with operating a vehicle after drinking alcohol

BY DAVID YONKE AND JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

The Rev. Michael Pitts, senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Maumee, was charged with operating a vehicle while under the influence or with a specified concentration of alcohol, according to the Ohio Highway Patrol and court records.

Mr. Pitts, 42, of 4055 South Wilkins Rd., Swanton Township, was randomly stopped at 3:54 p.m. Wednesday on U.S. 20A by a trooper who was pulling over motorists for routine vehicle inspection checks, said Lt. Robin Schmutz, commander of the Ohio Highway Patrol s Toledo post.

During the stop, Lieutenant Schmutz said, the trooper felt that Mr. Pitts was impaired and put him through a standard field sobriety test. He was arrested and taken to the patrol post, where a urine sample was taken. Results of that test might take a month to get back, the commander said.

Mr. Pitts was charged with a misdemeanor count of violating Ohio Revised Code Section 4511.19A1, which is "operation [of a motor vehicle] while under the influence of alcohol or drug of abuse or with specified concentration of alcohol or drug in certain bodily substances." He is also charged with a misdemeanor count of not having a front license place on his vehicle. He is scheduled to be arraigned tomorrow at 11 a.m. in Maumee Municipal Court.

At new conference this afternoon, Mr. Pitts attorney, Stephen Hartman, said his client was charged with having "a prohibited concentration of alcohol in his body.

The attorney said there is a marked difference between a prohibited concentration charge and drunken driving, although both fall under the same general section of the Ohio Revised Code.

There is no evidence of drunk driving or any impaired driving, Mr. Hartman said during the news conference at his Michigan Avenue law office. Mr. Pitts was not present.

Mr. Hartman said the OHP had no evidence of erratic driving or inability to control the vehicle prior to the stop and the arrest. He said the trooper smelled alcohol on Mr. Pitts breath and asked him to take a Breathalyzer test, to which Mr. Pitts agreed.

When the Breathalyzer malfunctioned three times, the attorney noted that the minister agreed to go to the highway patrol post and give a urine sample for testing.

We expect the results of that test will show that he did not, in fact, have a prohibited concentration of alcohol and the charges will be dropped case closed, Mr. Hartman said.

Mr. Hartman said Mr. Pitts -- pastor of the 3,000-member church on Reynolds Road and bishop of a network of 25 other churches in the United States and Mexico -- drank two glasses of wine at his home. The attorney said his client then drove half a mile to pick up a newspaper when he was stopped for the vehicle check.

The explanation that Mr. Pitts had a couple of glasses of wine is similar to that offered by the minister following a 2000 arrest and conviction for driving under the influence.

Toledo police stopped Mr. Pitts on Aug. 29., 2000, at Cherry Street and Central Avenue. He pleaded no contest and was found guilty of driving while intoxicated. His license was suspended for six months and he was ordered to pay $646 in fines and court costs.

Shortly after his arrest, Mr. Pitts told his followers at Cornerstone that he had a little wine with dinner the evening of his arrest, part of a celebration for his birthday and the completion of a book project.

Read more later in The Blade or online at toledoblade.com.



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