Manslaughter charges dropped against Keys man accused of letting girl drive drunk before she crashed and died

A manslaughter charge against a Marathon man accused of helping cause the death of a teenager by letting her drive drunk has been dropped due to what prosecutors say is lack of evidence.

Michael Mearns, 26, the son of former Marathon Mayor Randy Mearns and grandson of former Marathon Councilwoman Margie Mearns, had been charged with manslaughter by culpable negligence following a Feb. 25, 2011, crash in which 17-year-old Amber Kogelis of Lower Matecumbe Key died.

"You have to prove he knew she was drinking," State Attorney Catherine Vogel said Wednesday. "It's clear we do not have evidence of the impairment."

That's even though an autopsy revealed Kogelis had a blood alcohol content of .125. In Florida, .08 is considered legally drunk.

"It didn't rise to the level beyond a reasonable doubt," said Assistant State Attorney Paunece Ramage. "She wasn't stumbling, she wasn't holding herself up" in a video prosecutors reviewed that was taken at a Circle K store before the crash.

State troopers said Kogelis was at the wheel of a 1998 Ford Explorer just after midnight and Mearns was her passenger. They were traveling on a curved portion of Aviation Boulevard at the west end of Florida Keys Marathon Airport when Kogelis struck a parked 2006 Ford pickup before running over shrubs and a curb, hitting a dock and landing in Dodge Lake.

She died at the scene. Mearns was able to escape from the Explorer.

Following the crash, Florida Highway Patrol Cpl. Pedro Reinoso, a traffic homicide investigator, said in a report that "prior to the crash ... Mr. Mearns picked up Ms. Kogelis at her residence at approximately 6:30 p.m. Mr. Mearns never left Ms. Kogelis' side, spending approximately 5.5 hours with her going to his residence [on Lime Lane], the Hurricane bar, the Circle K gas station and, ultimately, the crash scene, where she expired" from saltwater drowning.

He wrote that Mearns allowed Kogelis to drive from the Circle K to Aviation Boulevard "so she could practice driving." She had a learner's permit.

Reinoso wrote that "it is critical to note that Ms. Kogelis was under the supervision of Mr. Mearns as she was operating the Ford.... The cause of this crash and the subsequent death of Amber R. Kogelis come to bear on Michael Randall Mearns by acting with reckless indifference by allowing Amber R. Kogelis, a minor, to operate a motor vehicle while [she was] under the influence of alcohol, thereby causing her death."

In order to convict," Vogel said, "we have to show culpable negligence, which is higher than regular negligence. We don't have sufficient evidence ... In good conscience, we don't have a case we can prove." Kogelis' family is suing Mearns for negligence.

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