CARLTON, Minn. — A Cannon Falls man has been charged with DWI after investigators say that he drove a bus carrying 35 boys, all between the ages of 11 and 14, and two adult chaperones while drunk on Fireball whisky.
The incident happened Sunday morning. Troopers with the Minnesota State Patrol say that someone flagged a charter bus veering from shoulder to shoulder on Interstate 35.
The bus was transporting the kids from a YMCA group to a Y camp in northern Minnesota, investigators say. Troopers observed the bus drive across a lane of traffic and into the shoulder, and tried to pull the bus over but the driver did not notice the emergency lights.
Ultimately, they pulled up next to the driver and sounded their sirens, which finally led the driver to pull over. Upon stopping him, troopers noted that he appeared to have glassy eyes, slurred speech and was moving slowly. The bus also started to roll because the driver didn’t engage the parking brake, the complaint says.
After failing all field sobriety tests, the driver — identified as 49-year-old Patrick Bullard — blew a 0.257 on a preliminary breath test. The legal limit in Minnesota while operating a commercial vehicle is 0.04.
He told officers that he’d last consumed alcohol “three hours ago,” but a search of his backpack revealed an open 1.75-liter bottle of Fireball, which was about one-third empty. There was a plastic cup in a holder near the driver’s seat that also contained an alcoholic beverage.
One of the two adult chaperones on the trip say they observed Bullard drinking from the plastic cup while driving.
He was taken into custody. The complaint says that when told he could contact an attorney, he instead called his boss, and then refused to submit to another breath test, “because I don’t want to.”
“In 34 years I’ve never dealt with anything like this before,” said John Benjamin, president of Northfield Lines “it was a complete shock to us.”
A spokesperson from Northfield Lines told WCCO that Bullard is no longer an employee. The spokesperson said that a number of others had interacted with him in the garage that morning and he seemed “in good shape.” The spokesperson also said Northfield Lines requires its drivers to subject themselves to random testing.
Bullard faces four counts, including DWI and refusal to submit to a chemical test; as well as possessing an open bottle. Prosecutors say that having children on the bus constitutes an aggravating factor.
“I hope this bus driver never is in another position to hold lives in his hands,” a parent of one the campers told WCCO.
“It’s a sad situation,” said Benjamin “I can just thank God that the children are safe.”
YMCA of the North released statement about the situation Tuesday, saying in part, “We are very appreciative of the work of the State Patrol and the Carlton County officials to ensure the safety of our campers and our employees. We will be monitoring any actions taken by Northfield Bus Lines as we review our relationship with them for the future.”