Wednesday, December 13, 2017
News Roundup

Port Richey city manager pleads no contest to DUI charge

NEW PORT RICHEY — Port Richey City Manager Tom O'Neill avoided jail time on Monday after he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor DUI charge.

Police found O'Neill, 60, asleep at the wheel of his Ford Escape idling in the middle of Astor Drive on July 13. He could not perform field sobriety exercises, got a ride to a hospital in an ambulance but was not investigated further for DUI. Blood tests from the hospital later revealed his blood-alcohol level was 0.367. Florida law presumes a driver impaired with a level of 0.08.

On Monday, Pasco County Judge Anne Wansboro sentenced O'Neill to a year of probation, fines and some restrictions on his daily life.

This was O'Neill's second DUI arrest, a fact prosecutor Chris Labruz­zo asked the judge to consider when sentencing. The state did not ask for a specific punishment.

O'Neill's lawyer, Sam Williams, said O'Neill sought treatment for alcohol after his arrest, but his main issue was stress management.

Wansboro also imposed a curfew of 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., with exceptions for work, treatment or counseling. O'Neill's driver's license was revoked for six months, and his car will be impounded for 10 days. His car will be fitted with an instrument that tests his breath for alcohol before it starts, for one year. He will also have to continue his alcohol treatment meetings, which Williams said he attends regularly.

O'Neill is the former city manager of neighboring New Port Richey. An officer from that city's police department discovered the idling SUV on Astor Drive and recognized the driver as O'Neill. Other departments were called in "to avoid the appearance or potential conflict of interest" in the incident, which was classified as a "welfare check."

A police dash cam video showed O'Neill emerge from the driver's seat with the help of paramedics who walked him to the back bumper. The officer asked O'Neill to perform field sobriety exercises, but O'Neill was unable to. He wouldn't say whether he'd been drinking.

He was taken to a hospital that night but wasn't investigated further for DUI. An officer drove his car home for him.

Later, after a Tampa Bay Times story about the incident, the State Attorney's Office opened an investigation. O'Neill was charged with DUI on Aug. 29.

He was suspended from work for 30 days after the incident.

O'Neill was charged with his first DUI in August 1996. He pleaded no contest, court records show. He was sentenced to six months' probation, community service and DUI school.

After Monday's sentencing, O'Neill was fingerprinted and then walked with his lawyer to the misdemeanor probation office at the courthouse. He declined to comment.

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