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Brandes aide charged with DUI, leaving scene of accident

CombsThe 29-year-old district secretary for Sen. Jeff Brandes was arrested early Friday morning and charged with DUI and leaving the scene of an accident involving property damage.

A witness told St. Petersburg Police that at about 1:19 a.m. he saw Robert Thomas Combs drive his white 2003 Chevrolet S10 pickup off the road at the intersection of downtown St. Petersburg's Beach Drive NE and 5 Avenue NE. The truck drove over and uprooted a cement bollard and cracked the cement paving, which is owned by the city of St. Peterburg. according to an arrest affidavit.

The witness, Christopher Cook, said Combs left the scene without making any attempt to provide his driving information. Cook identified Combs to police in a “field showup”. Unlike a lineup, where a witness choose from several suspects, a showup presents just the one suspect to the witness, who is basically asked, “Is this the person you saw?”

Although he was identified by Cook, Combs refused to admit he crashed his vehicle.

Combs “had an odor of an alcoholic beverage on his exhaled breath, slurred speech, blank expression, bloodshot and watery eyes, and was unsteady on his feet,” according to the arrest affidavit.

He refused to cooperate with the field sobriety tests and refused a breath test. He was booked at the Pinellas County Jail at 3:12 a.m. on a $500 bond for the DUI, a misdemeanor punishable on a first offense of a fine of up to $1,000 and six months in jail, and $250 for leaving the scene of a crash involving property damage, which is a misdemeanor. He was released at 2:46 p.m. on Friday after posting bond.

Combs, who lists a Key West address, couldn’t be reached. According to a criminal history report by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Combs pleaded guilty in 2006 to a marijuana charge.

Brandes said Monday he’s only spoken to Combs briefly about Friday’s arrest.

“He was very upset,” Brandes said. “Very upset.”

Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said he doesn’t yet have all the details of what happened.

“I was notified Friday of the situation,” Brandes said. “We’re waiting for all the details to come out. Once we do, we’ll sit down and make a decision about our next course of action.”

Brandes said Combs has been with him for about a year and makes about $32,000. As district secretary, Combs is the main local contact for Brandes during legislative session. He handles constituent services and attends local events.