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New Port Richey police chief says he didn't know about DUI inquiry, now investigating

NEW PORT RICHEY — Two weeks ago, when New Port Richey police pulled behind an SUV idling in a residential street and found Port Richey City Manager Tom O'Neill asleep inside, apparently smelling of alcohol, no one completed a DUI investigation.

No arrest was made — O'Neill was taken to a hospital and treated for an unspecified medical condition. And no one thought to tell police Chief Kim Bogart about any of it until the following Monday.

Now, after the Tampa Bay Times wrote about the incident, the Police Department is taking a more thorough look.

"That troubles me a great deal," Bogart said about not immediately being made aware of the traffic stop on July 13, a Saturday. "It should be clear to anyone that this would be controversial. It is the kind of incident that I would expect consultation."

Bogart said he plans to review the case to see whether criminal charges should be filed against O'Neill and whether Cpl. William Phillips, who was on the scene that night, was acting on his own discretion.

In an interview Monday, Bogart said Phillips left a voicemail with his lieutenant about 2 a.m. July 14 but otherwise "did not go up our chain of command."

Phillips, who recognized O'Neill sleeping in the SUV, radioed for other agencies "to avoid the appearance or potential conflict of interest," he wrote in the report. O'Neill is the former New Port Richey city manager.

In the 46th minute of the video shot from the dashboard camera of a Port Richey police car, O'Neill emerges from the SUV and walks, with his arms slung over paramedics' shoulders, to the truck's rear bumper and sits. An officer tries to start a field sobriety test, but O'Neill stares straight ahead without responding, according to the report.

Bogart wasn't aware of the Port Richey officer's video until Friday or Saturday, he said, after the Times story ran.

He said he spoke briefly about O'Neill's nonarrest 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 the report.

Now, Bogart says the State Attorney's Office may investigate whether O'Neill's blood-alcohol level was measured at the hospital that night. He said he still hasn't seen the dashboard video in full and may find more answers there.

"I'm not questioning (Phillips') decision at this point in time," he said. "I'm simply gathering information."

Bogart said he expects to know more about the incident "within the next few days."

Port Richey Vice Mayor Bill Colombo said O'Neill informed him of the stop within a couple of days of the incident. O'Neill told him he had a medical issue but made no mention of alcohol.

"He said he'd been out, and that was it," Colombo said.

Colombo said he expects the incident will be addressed at some point when the City Council meets, and he plans to monitor anything new released by New Port Richey.

"The smell of alcohol doesn't necessarily mean someone is driving under the influence," Colombo said. "That's for the police on the ground to determine. It appears the paramedics were concerned with his medical condition enough to take him to the hospital."

O'Neill said he took Monday off to meet with his doctor and will return to work today. He said he has no plans to resign.

He previously said he was suffering from a medical problem that night but did not elaborate. He declined to say anything more on Monday.

"I have nothing to add," he said.

Contact Alex Orlando at aorlando@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6247.

New Port Richey police chief says he didn't know about DUI inquiry, now investigating 07/29/13 [Last modified: Monday, July 29, 2013 9:44pm]
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