Billy Lane charged with manslaughter in death
Florida - With four attorneys by his side, nationally known motorcycle designer Billy Lane quietly surrendered to authorities Monday on charges his blood alcohol was twice the legal limit during a collision that killed a 56-year-old man on a moped.
Lane was charged with driving under the influence manslaughter, driving with his license suspended and driving under the influence with serious bodily injuries in connection with a Sept. 4 accident on State Road A1A, south of Melbourne Beach.
Gerald Vernon Morelock, a Sebastian Inlet park ranger from Melbourne Beach, was killed in the head-on collision between his moped and Lane's pickup truck.
"At the time of the crash (Lane's) license had been suspended," Florida Highway Patrol spokeswoman Kim Miller said.
Lane's case has drawn attention from motorcycling enthusiasts across the country.
"He should have never been behind the wheel," Miller said.
After he resisted officers who tried to draw blood, Lane's blood alcohol level tested at .192, more than twice the state's legal limit of .08, Miller said.
Lane's attorney issued a statement.
"We are currently conducting our own investigation of every aspect of this accident, including the blood alcohol level," Melbourne attorney Kepler Funk said.
Morelock's brother, Byron Morelock of Indialantic, praised the effort to bring in Lane on DUI manslaughter charges. He described his brother "Jerry" as a friendly, fun-loving man who moved to Brevard from Ohio in 1984.
"I'm relieved, but I had faith in the arresting patrolman and I have faith in our legal system," said Byron Morelock.
"(The investigator) kept in touch with me and said the investigators were crossing their t's and dotting their i's. I'm relieved but it's such a shame this had to happen. There are no winners in this thing. Relieved is the wrong word -- maybe just that some of the tension is gone."
On Monday, an FHP trooper led a handcuffed Lane out of the highway patrol's Cocoa headquarters about 1:30 p.m. to a waiting patrol car.
Looking disheveled and staring ahead quietly, Lane was placed in the front seat of the patrol car, then escorted to the Brevard County Jail Complex, where he was photographed and booked into the jail. He was released within 90 minutes on a $15,000 bond, officials said.
"That does seem low, but, unfortunately for us, we don't set the bond," Miller said. "We would like to see a higher bond, but it's a standard bond."
Lane must surrender his passport and cannot drive, as part of the requirements of his bond, Miller said.
Investigators said the accident happened after Lane, the custom chopper builder featured on Discovery Channel's "Biker Build-Off" and "Monster Garage," crossed a double yellow line to pass several other vehicles before striking Morelock's 1983 Yamaha moped.
Lane had been drinking throughout the day, according to investigators. He was at Coconuts on the Beach Restaurant and Bar in Cocoa Beach earlier and left the popular nightclub and headed to Cheaters, another popular nightspot, where he had several other drinks, officials said.
Lane got on his motorcycle with a passenger identified as Erin Levens Derrick and rode to his business, Choppers, Inc., located on the 1200 block of U.S. 1 in Melbourne.
At the shop, Lane and his passenger got into a black, custom-painted 2006 Dodge Ram pickup and headed toward his beachside home.
Later on State Road A1A, a two-lane highway that parallels the beach and cuts through a residential area, Lane was spotted passing the double yellow line to speed southbound past three vehicles on the darkened road, officials said.
Several motorists told Florida Highway Patrol investigators that they saw a headlight in the distance belonging to the northbound moped ridden by Morelock. Investigators said Lane saw the light, then attempted to veer east when the pickup slammed head-on into the moped, killing Morelock instantly. The moped was destroyed, its mangled wreckage tossed 64 feet away.
Lane's pickup trucked rolled off the road, knocking over three palm trees and overturned into a power pole, reports show.
Brevard County Fire-Rescue paramedics arrived minutes later and found Lane, injured but conscious, still in the driver's seat. Paramedics said they also smelled alcohol.
Both Lane and his passenger, Derrick, were taken to Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne for treatment.
But at the hospital, Lane, still able to speak, refused a request from investigators to draw blood. Troopers then had to hold Lane down while a nurse took the blood sample, officials said. He went home the next day.
Investigators did not immediately file charges in the case, something that raised the ire of family members and motorcycle bloggers on the Internet.
But agents -- who described the crash scene as one of the worst they had seen in recent years -- turned over Lane's blood to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement laboratory in Orlando and asked that the case be given priority.
"They actually put a rush on it, and his blood alcohol actually came back twice the legal limit of .08," Miller said.
The deadly crash was also not the only run-in with traffic enforcement for the celebrity biker. In June, North Carolina Highway Patrol officers arrested Lane on drunken driving charges.
Police in that case said Lane drove on the wrong side of a two-lane road without a helmet. Lane refused a breath test and is due in court Oct. 5 on those charges, according to the Rowan County Clerk of Courts. His refusal to take the breath test resulted in his license being suspended for a year.
"The police did the right thing and took their time," Byron Morelock said. "It just goes to show that you cannot go around drinking and driving."
Contact Gallop at 242-3668 or [email protected]