Saturday, December 16, 2017
News Roundup

Port Richey council members express concern over city manager case

PORT RICHEY — Mayor Eloise Taylor was about to adjourn Tuesday's City Council meeting when council member Terry Rowe spoke up.

As television cameras rolled, Rowe said the board would appear "inept" if it didn't address the elephant in the room: the incident involving City Manager Tom O'Neill, who was found passed out at the wheel of his sport utility vehicle last month apparently smelling of alcohol.

"It's unfortunate Port Richey is again under the spotlight and we can do nothing but wait for the completion of the state attorney's investigation on this," Rowe said. "But I think it would be very poor of us not to at least address this and let the citizens know we are aware of this, we are monitoring it, and we will take whatever appropriate action that we may need, if need be."

O'Neill, 59, has said he "had a need for medical attention" that night. He declined to comment for this report and has not said what his medical condition is.

Just before midnight on July 13, New Port Richey police Cpl. William Phillips responded to a 911 call about an SUV idling in the middle of Astor Drive. He found the driver asleep at the wheel with the engine running and the vehicle in neutral. He later noted in his report that he recognized the sleeping man as O'Neill, who is the former New Port Richey city manager. Phillips asked other agencies to respond to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. Emergency dispatch sent an officer from Port Richey — O'Neill's current employer.

A police dash cam video showed O'Neill with his arms over paramedics' shoulders as they walked him to the back bumper of his SUV after waking him. Phillips asked O'Neill to perform field sobriety exercises, but O'Neill was unable. An ambulance took O'Neill to a hospital. He was not further investigated for DUI.

After the incident was reported by the Tampa Bay Times, State Attorney Bernie McCabe announced he was opening a criminal investigation. By Florida law, the State Attorney's Office had to notify O'Neill in writing that it plans to seek his medical records. O'Neill then has 10 days to respond to the letter, which was sent last week. If he declines to cooperate, prosecutors will seek a court order for the information.

O'Neill either can hand over the records or fight the subpoena, according to defense lawyer Thomas Carey. Either O'Neill himself or the hospital can refuse to release the records. If that happens, a hearing would be held in front of a judge.

Carey, who has handled multiple DUI cases and is a member of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said asking for medical records in a DUI case isn't unusual, but doing it before the case begins is.

As for the records themselves, Carey said they may not show anything anyway.

"I'd say about 50-50 it would show" that he was intoxicated, Carey said. "It all depends on what they did to him when he got (to the hospital)."

It's up to the state attorney, Carey said, to prove O'Neill's guilt, and it's in O'Neill's rights to put up road blocks to the state's case.

O'Neill's attorney declined to comment for this report.

Times staff writer Alex Orlando contributed to this report.

Comments

High school scoreboard for Dec. 15

Friday’s scoreboardGirls soccerCountryside 7, Clearwater 0Osceola 9, Bradenton Bayshore 0Palm Harbor U. 2, Plant 1Boys soccerPalm Harbor U. 0, Plant 0Lennard 4, Armwood 1
Updated: 5 hours ago

Lottery resultsNumbers drawn after 9 p.m. are no longer available by our deadlines. For results, go to tampabay.com/lottery.Pick 2, 3, 4, 5Fri., Dec. 15, midday:01 563 0000e_SRit95765Fri., Dec. 15, evening:12 287 1492e_SRit04851Fantasy 5Fri., Dec. 15...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Gators play Nebraska, still seeking elusive volleyball title

Gators play Nebraska, still seeking elusive volleyball title

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There is very little these days that can dampen the mood of Florida volleyball coach Mary Wise, whose Gators knocked off reigning national champion Stanford in Thursday’s NCAA semifinals and face Nebraska tonight for the title. Not...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Pinellas sheriff’s investigator fired, could face criminal charges for involvement in child custody battle

Pinellas sheriff’s investigator fired, could face criminal charges for involvement in child custody battle

LARGO — A Pinellas sheriff’s child protective investigator has been fired and could face criminal charges after an investigation found she made a child custody recommendation to a judge as a favor to a friend.Jayne Johnson, who has worked for the She...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Festivus 2017: Send us your best grievances

Festivus 2017: Send us your best grievances

Here's your chance. Tell us what annoyed you in 2017, and we'll share it with our readers.
Updated: 7 hours ago
Experts chart path for Hillsborough to grow smarter before sprawl takes over

Experts chart path for Hillsborough to grow smarter before sprawl takes over

TAMPA — Nearly 600,000 more people will live in Hillsborough County by 2040, and if elected officials and county planners don’t take bold steps now, the population boom will turn the county into the soulless sprawl of Anywhere, U.S.A.That’s the messa...
Updated: 8 hours ago

Highlights of GOP compromise bill to overhaul tax code

WASHINGTON — Republicans in Congress have blended separate tax bills passed by the House and Senate into compromise legislation that seeks to achieve a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s tax code. GOP leaders are looking toward passage of the final pa...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Tillerson retreats on offer of unconditional N. Korea talks

Tillerson retreats on offer of unconditional N. Korea talks

WASHINGTON — America’s top diplomat stepped back Friday from his offer of unconditional talks with North Korea, telling world powers that the nuclear-armed nation must earn the right to negotiate with the United States. Secretary of State Rex Tillers...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Judge signals release of ex-Trump chair Paul Manafort to Florida home under curfew and GPS monitoring

Judge signals release of ex-Trump chair Paul Manafort to Florida home under curfew and GPS monitoring

A federal judge Friday said a bail package has been put together that would release former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort from home confinement in his condominium in Virginia and allow him to reside at his house in Palm Beach Gardens, but unde...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Deputies: Plant City men fled in stolen car, shot dog, hid in swamp

Deputies: Plant City men fled in stolen car, shot dog, hid in swamp

DOVER — Two Plant City men who ran from deputies and shot a dog were captured after a brief pursuit Thursday, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.They ditched a stolen car, ran away on foot, crossed through several yards and then tr...
Updated: 9 hours ago