Dalton Hooks

HOOKS

SEBRING — Dalton Hooks, 17, entered a plea of not guilty Monday to charges of DUI manslaughter and DUI property damage.

At Hooks’ arraignment, Circuit Court Judge Peter Estrada set his next hearing for June 19. Hooks, of Sebring, has been charged in connection with wreck Nov. 18, 2018, that resulted in the death of Andrew Warren Stephens, 14, also of Sebring.

At approximately 2:15 a.m., Hooks, who was 17 at the time, was driving a 2000 Ford Ranger pickup truck southbound on Old State Road 8, south of Henry Drive, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

A 15-year-old girl from Wesley Chapel was in the front passenger seat, wearing a seat belt. Stephens was unrestrained in the bed of the pickup truck, reports said.

Hooks allegedly was negotiating a left-hand curve on Old SR 8, but drove off the paved road and onto the shoulder on the west side.

The pickup moved southeast, began to spin counterclockwise across both lanes, slid backwards into a ditch on the side of the road and overturned before it stopped against a copse of trees.

Stephens, thrown from the bed, was pronounced dead at the scene, FHP reported.

Hooks was taken to then-Florida Hospital Lake Placid, now AdventHealth Lake Placid, with serious injuries, and was treated and released.

Assistant State Attorney Steve Houchin said Hooks’ blood alcohol level showed 0.119 on his traffic citation, well over Florida’s legal limit of 0.08.

The crash report said it was unknown if Hooks was in a seat belt. The 15-year-old female suffered only minor injuries.

Original Highlands News-Sun reports did not release Hooks’ name or the name of the girl. However, Hooks is being tried as an adult.

Houchin has explained to the Highlands News-Sun that criminal traffic cases always go to trial as an adult as there is no juvenile division in traffic court. Even lesser charges such as a 17-year-old with a speeding ticket would go to civil adult court.

Hooks and Stephens both attended Sebring High School. Stephens was a freshman who enjoyed showing livestock with 4-H, fishing, hunting and hanging out with his friends, according to his obituary.

Hooks was arrested March 5 after turning himself in to authorities. Bond was set at $50,000, which Hooks made.

As a condition of the pretrial release, Hooks must check in with a probation officer twice a week — Tuesday and Thursday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. — must refrain from drugs and alcohol, and must submit to urine tests.

Hooks must also enroll in a substance abuse evaluation.

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