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Wednesday, December 13, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor pleads not guilty to charge of operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol

TOLDEO, OH — The Rev. Michael Pitts, senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Maumee, pleaded not guilty today to a charge of operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol during an arraignment in Maumee Municipal Court.

Judge Gary Byers released Mr. Pitts, 42, of 4055 South Wilkins Rd., Swanton Township, on his own recognizance after he entered the not-guilty plea. A pretrial conference with a Lucas County prosecutor was set for 2 p.m. on Jan. 16.

Mr. Pitts 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 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 ... with specified concentration of alcohol or drug in certain bodily substances."

He was issued a warning for, but not charged with, a misdemeanor violation of not having a front license place on his vehicle.

Attorney Steve Hartman, who is representing Mr. Pitts, said he hopes to have the test results back from the urine sample Mr. Pitts gave after his arrest before the pre-trial meeting with the prosecutor's office next month.

Mr. Hartman said his client had consumed two glasses of wine on Wednesday before taking a short drive to retrieve a newspaper when he was stopped for the routine vehicle check near his Swanton Township home.

Repeating his comments from a press conference yesterday, Mr. Hartman said today that he fully expects the urine test results will show Mr. Pitts did not exceed Ohio's legal limit for driving while impaired and expects the charge against his client will ultimately be dropped.

Mr. Pitts, who is 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, spoke with reporters after his arraignment about the charge against him.

"It’s just part of the way life goes every so often,” he said.

The explanation that Mr. Pitts had only had a couple of glasses of wine before he was stopped was 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 fined $646 plus 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.