Saturday, February 24, 2018
Politics

DUI charge filed against Port Richey city manager; authorities point to .367 blood-alcohol level

NEW PORT RICHEY — Prosecutors on Thursday charged Port Richey City Manager Tom O'Neill with DUI after an investigation revealed he had a blood-alcohol level more than four times the level at which state law presumes a driver is impaired.

Just before midnight on July 13, New Port Richey Police Cpl. William Phillips responded to a 911 call about a Ford Escape idling in the middle of Astor Drive. The brake lights were on, both rear windows down, and the driver appeared to be asleep at the wheel.

Phillips wrote in his report that he recognized the sleeping man as O'Neill, the former New Port Richey city manager. Phillips requested the Florida Highway Patrol and the Pasco Sheriff's Office to respond "to avoid the appearance or potential conflict of interest," he wrote in the report. Emergency dispatch sent an officer from Port Richey — where O'Neill is now city manager.

For 45 minutes, paramedics were unable to wake him. Then, a police dash cam video showed O'Neill emerge from the driver's seat with his arms over paramedics' shoulders as they walked him to the back bumper. Phillips asked O'Neill to perform field sobriety exercises, but O'Neill was unable. He wouldn't say whether he'd been drinking

An ambulance took him to a hospital, and he was not further investigated for DUI.

New Port Richey police Chief Kim Bogart backed his officer's decision that night.

"(Phillips) decided potential for a medical emergency overrode the concerns about alcohol," Bogart said in the weeks after the incident. "I can't in good conscience question his judgment."

Bogart said he spoke briefly with Phillips and Phillips' supervisor, but did not look further into the "welfare check," as it was labeled in reports. The video is not mentioned in Phillips' report, and Bogart and the State Attorney's Office said they weren't aware of it until late July, after a story appeared in the Tampa Bay Times.

The State Attorney's Office then opened an investigation. Prosecutors requested O'Neill's medical records from the hospital, which were turned over Monday. Court documents for the misdemeanor DUI charge say O'Neill's blood alcohol level was 0.367. Florida law presumes a driver impaired at a level of 0.08.

An arraignment has been set for 1:30 p.m. Sept. 12.

"I've not seen the evidence or what the facts are," said Port Richey Mayor Eloise Taylor, "but government officials are held to a higher standard, so I'm sure that the council will address it."

O'Neill would not comment on the charges against him, saying he will release a statement "when the matter resolves." He previously said that he was experiencing a medical problem that night but declined to say what it was.

He worked for New Port Richey for 35 years before becoming full-time city manager in 2008. The stint was brief as he was forced under a retirement agreement to step down in June 2009. He became Port Richey's city manager in 2011.

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

Times correspondent Robert Napper contributed to this report. Alex Orlando can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.

Comments
Top Justice official alerted White House 2 weeks ago to ongoing issues in Kushnerís security clearance

Top Justice official alerted White House 2 weeks ago to ongoing issues in Kushnerís security clearance

WASHINGTON ó A top Justice Department official alerted the White House two weeks ago that significant information requiring additional investigation would further delay the security clearance process of senior adviser Jared Kushner, three people fami...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Former Florida congressmen say gun control measures need to go much further

Former Florida congressmen say gun control measures need to go much further

TAMPA ó A bipartisan pair of former congressmen spoke Friday about gun safety measures that are more drastic than those being considered following the Parkland school shootings, and about hopes for a national youth movement comparable to the 1960s an...
Published: 02/23/18

Gulfport candidates draw stark contrasts

GULFPORT ó One candidate is a plain-spoken, straightforward technology consultant who preaches "conservative fiscal responsibility" and votes Republican in national elections.The other is a self-proclaimed "progressive liberal" who practices law, pro...
Published: 02/23/18
William March: Gun issues playing bigger role now in local races

William March: Gun issues playing bigger role now in local races

In the aftermath of the Broward County high school shooting, gun rights issues have jumped to the forefront of local legislative races.Democratic challengers are calling out incumbents in Tampa legislative seats on their past stances on gun control."...
Published: 02/22/18
Updated: 02/23/18
Mattis expected to back allowing transgender troops to stay in the military

Mattis expected to back allowing transgender troops to stay in the military

WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is expected to propose to President Donald Trump that transgender members of the U.S. military be allowed to continue serving despite the presidentís call last summer for a ban on all transgender service, acc...
Published: 02/22/18
Sen. Marco Rubio faces tough audience at riveting CNN forum on gun violence

Sen. Marco Rubio faces tough audience at riveting CNN forum on gun violence

After an emotionally draining day that captured national attention ó the massive rally in Tallahassee and a small, tearful gathering of survivors at the White House ó CNNís Wednesday night town hall on the Parkland shooting could have easily been ove...
Published: 02/22/18
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens indicted on felony invasion of privacy charge

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens indicted on felony invasion of privacy charge

A St. Louis grand jury has indicted Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens on a felony invasion of privacy charge related to the Republicanís affair with a woman in 2015. St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner announced the indictment Thursday. She launched an ...
Published: 02/22/18
Two weeks after Trump chose him for ambassador, nominee pledged money for a gala at Trumpís club

Two weeks after Trump chose him for ambassador, nominee pledged money for a gala at Trumpís club

Two weeks after President Donald Trump nominated Florida businessman Leandro Rizzuto Jr. to be ambassador to Barbados, Rizzuto pledged thousands of dollars to fund a gala at Trumpís Mar-a-Lago Club, the galaís organizer said.Rizzuto and his wife, Den...
Published: 02/22/18
Mueller files new charges in Manafort, Gates case

Mueller files new charges in Manafort, Gates case

New charges were filed Thursday against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business partner, ratcheting up the legal pressure on them as they prepare for a trial later this year.A new indictment has long been expected in special cou...
Published: 02/22/18
Romano: Welcome to Florida, a state more afraid of conversation than guns

Romano: Welcome to Florida, a state more afraid of conversation than guns

Gun advocates are absolutely right about this:A ban on assault weapons will not end school shootings.How do we know?Because there was a federal ban on assault weapons for 10 years, and mass killings persisted. Thatís because a ban deals only with fut...
Published: 02/22/18