Football

Gators can't seem to stop getting pulled over in Gainesville

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Gators have had well-publicized arrests in recent months stemming from traffic charges — including Carlos Dunlap's DUI charge on Dec. 1 — but those incidents represent a small fraction of a team-wide 251 traffic citations in Alachua County, according to Orlando Sentinel research.

These charges range from speeding tickets to numerous cases of driving with a suspended or revoked license, typically a second-degree misdemeanor or, for repeat offenders, a felony.

The information was compiled in late November and early December through Alachua County court records, accounting for 96 Gators who either entered fall camp on scholarship or served in the "game participation" portion of this season's box scores. Charges stem from 2006-09 for football players who usually drive cars or motorized scooters around campus or in Gainesville.

Depending on the source, some in the legal world consider any traffic misdemeanor or felony charge a technical arrest. The Gators have 21 such charges, mostly from getting caught with a suspended license. Most charges don't result in jail booking.

Thirty-two of the team's citations were listed as "open" or "undisposed" in the Alachua County system at the time of this search, meaning they are either unpaid or unresolved.

Thirty-two players — including Tim Tebow — never have received a documented traffic ticket in Alachua County. Eleven of the 32 are from the 2009 signing class and have been on campus less than a year.

But 12 players have seven or more tickets, including team leader Jermaine Cunningham, an All-Southeastern Conference defensive end who has almost as many career tickets (14) as sacks (18).

Dunlap, who fell asleep at the wheel at a Gainesville intersection four days before the Southeastern Conference title game, has the only DUI charge among the Gators.

Florida isn't the only football program with this problem. Three University of Georgia players were arrested for traffic-related charges during the 2009 season.

"The irresponsibility can catch up to you," State Attorney Bill Cervone said. "Somebody like (Dustin) Doe is far more likely to get caught repeatedly. He's so visible, he's driving in a small, little location, and UPD (University Police Department) knows who Doe is — not just because they are athletes, but they're issued tickets while driving the same roads every day to the same cops."

Doe, a linebacker, has nine traffic tickets.

Research indicates UF football players get pulled over at least twice the average amount for college-aged males in the county.

Florida players average 2.61 tickets per player, ranging from freshman to fifth-year senior. If the 16-member 2009 signing class is removed, the Gators average three tickets per player. Alachua County has issued approximately 13,350 criminal or routine traffic tickets to 18- to 24-year-old males from Jan. 1 to Dec. 1, 2009, according to the clerk of the court.

The state's Office of Economic and Demographic Research says there are 28,144 males in Alachua County between 18 and 24, which averages out to 0.474 traffic tickets per person for 2009 — or 1.29 tickets per 2.5 years, the approximate length of time a current UF football player has been part of the team.

Jeff Holcomb, public information officer for UPD, estimates UF students average one or fewer traffic tickets per college career. Most Gainesville-area tickets are issued by UPD, the Gainesville Police Department or the Alachua County Sherriff's Office. Holcomb said every case is handled fairly.

"Our officers will pull students over not knowing who they are," Holcomb said. "It's more about the infraction than the target."

Gainesville-based attorney Huntley Johnson, who represents most Gators athletes in legal matters, said GPD and UPD have been "over the top" with athletes in certain cases.

"Is there some jealousy on the part of police officers? Absolutely," Johnson said. "Does it overflow into the way they treat their athletes? I think it's something that can't be avoided."

Coach Urban Meyer was not available for interviews, but UF issued a statement on behalf of the team. Meyer's program caught heat over the summer for a reported 24 arrests in his four-plus seasons.

"This is an issue that has been discussed with the team," spokesman Steve McClain said. "The coaching staff continues to educate our players to do the right thing at all times."

  Comments