A bus driver was severely intoxicated and drinking whiskey while transporting 35 children to an Iron Range summer camp Sunday, according to court documents.
Patrick David Bullard, 49, of Cannon Falls, faces four charges after he was stopped and arrested along Interstate 35 in Carlton County. A roadside breath test reportedly placed his blood-alcohol concentration at 0.257 — more than three times the legal limit in Minnesota.
The children, ranging in age from 11 to 14, and accompanied by two adult chaperones, were traveling from the Twin Cities to YMCA Camp Warren, on Half Moon Lake, just south of Eveleth.
The Minnesota State Patrol was alerted around 11:20 a.m. that the charter bus was being driven shoulder to shoulder along the northbound lanes, almost crashing into the ditch on at least one occasion, according to a criminal complaint.
Troopers found the bus, observing as it swerved onto the shoulder and kicked up dust. The officers activated their emergency lights, but Bullard apparently did not notice as the bus “continued to weave considerably out of its lane of travel,” the complaint states.
After activating their sirens and pulling up next to the driver, Bullard finally pulled over. Troopers reported that he “seemed quite dazed and disoriented,” with watery eyes, slurred speech and slow, deliberate motions.
Bullard neglected to use the parking brake, so the bus began rolling backward, the complaint states.
Bullard, unsteady on his feet, was asked to step off the bus and perform field-sobriety tests, all of which indicated impairment. He initially claimed that his last drink was a few days prior, and then allegedly said it was about three hours before the stop.
The complaint states that troopers found a 1.75-liter bottle of Fireball whiskey, approximately one-third empty, in Bullard’s backpack. Next to the driver’s seat was a mixed beverage that apparently contained the whiskey. A chaperone confirmed to troopers that Bullard had been drinking from the container while driving.
Taken to the Carlton County Law Enforcement Center for further investigation, Bullard allegedly refused to provide another breath test, “because I don’t want to.” The complaint states that he was given a chance to call an attorney, but instead only contacted his supervisor.
Joan Schimml, a spokeswoman for YMCA of the North, said multiple buses were transporting children and counselors to Camp Warren. They were contracted through Eagan-based Northfield Lines, “the same firm we have used successfully for almost two decades.”
Schimml said public safety officials drove the bus to a nearby gas station and waited with the passengers until a new driver arrived.
“All our campers and counselors arrived safely at Camp Warren by early afternoon on Sunday,” Schimml said. “The campers and counselors will return to the Twin Cities on Friday, with two drivers being on duty in those buses. We have been in communication with families of all the campers since the incident on Sunday. 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.”
Northfield Lines owner John Benjamin could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.
Bullared was arraigned Tuesday in Carlton County District Court on gross misdemeanor counts of impaired driving and chemical test refusal, along with two misdemeanor open bottle violations. He was released later that day with several conditions, which did not require him to pay cash bail.
Bullard’s next court appearance is scheduled for Nov 2.