CARLTON COUNTY, Minn. — A 49-year-old Cannon Falls man is facing charges after allegedly driving a charter bus while drunk with 35 students aboard.
The complaint filed in Carlton County Tuesday says Patrick Bullard is being charged with two counts of DWI - one for refusing to take a sobriety test, and the other for operating a motor vehicle under the influence. Bullard was also charged with being in possession of, and drinking and consumption of, an open bottle.
Prosecutors say the incident occurred around 11:20 a.m. Sunday, when Minnesota State troopers responded to a complaint of a bus driving erratically, and at times, allegedly almost going into a ditch off I-35 northbound.
The complaint says state troopers located the bus with Bullard behind the wheel, and attempted to make a traffic stop. Court documents allege Bullard didn't notice the squads even after they turned on their emergency lights, but after watching the bus weave in and out of its lane troopers were finally able to get Bullard to pull over.
Troopers say when they approached the bus, they found 35 kids between the ages of 11 to 14 inside, as well as two adult chaperones. They discovered the passengers were headed to a camp in northern Minnesota as part of a YMCA group.
After talking to Bullard, they described him to investigators as "dazed and disoriented." The complaint also alleges Bullard had glassy eyes and slurred speech, and troopers noticed a smell consistent with alcohol present. When asked, Bullard told troopers he hadn't consumed alcohol in days.
Bullard's initial field sobriety test showed signs of impairment, and a subsequent breath test revealed Bullard's blood-alcohol level to be .257 - more than six times the legal limit to drive a bus in Minnesota. While searching the defendant's possessions, the complaint says troopers discovered a large bottle of Fireball whisky that appeared to be missing about one-third of the bottle. Troopers also located a plastic cup in Bullard's cupholder, allegedly containing an "alcohol mixed beverage" with an "odor similar" to Fireball.
The complaint says when troopers transported Bullard to the Carlton County Jail, Bullard refused to give authorities another breath sample stating, "because I don't want to."
One of the chaperones on the bus later told investigators he saw Bullard drinking from the cup in his cupholder while driving the bus.
A spokesperson for the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities released the following statement after charges were filed:
On Sunday, Aug. 21, we had campers and counselors en route to our Camp Warren in Eveleth, MN; buses were contracted through Northfield Bus Lines, the same firm we have used successfully for almost two decades. One of the buses, with 35 campers and two adults, was observed to be weaving on the highway in Carlton County; MN State Patrol intervened and discovered the driver had an open bottle of alcohol concealed in a backpack, and he was arrested at the scene. The bus was driven by public safety officials to a nearby gas station and monitored until a new bus and driver arrived. All our campers and counselors arrived safely at Camp Warren by early afternoon on Sunday. The campers and counselors will return to the Twin Cities on Friday, with two drivers being on duty in those busses. 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.
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