According to the Minnesota State Patrol, at around 11:19 a.m. on Aug. 21 troopers received reports of a charter bus being driven "from shoulder to shoulder" on northbound Interstate 35 – almost driving into the ditch.
Troopers located the bus and saw it drive onto the shoulder, kicking up dust. They then activated their emergency lights, but the driver did not notice, and the bus continued to weave considerably, according to police, a criminal complaint said.
When troopers approached the bus, they identified the driver as Patrick David Bullard, 40, of Cannon Falls, and discovered there were 35 children passengers, with ages ranging from 11 to 14 years old on board, charges said. There were also two adult chaperones.
After speaking with Bullard, police noticed "He seemed quite dazed and disoriented" with motions that were "very slow and deliberate," charges said. When he stepped out of the bus to speak with them, "He was very unsteady on his feet." In addition, the bus began to roll away as they were speaking, due to Bullard failing to engage the parking brake, prosecutors allege.
Asked to perform standardized field sobriety tests, Bullard exhibited "six out of a total of six clues showing his impairment" and then provided a preliminary breath test that revealed a 0.257 blood alcohol concentration (BAC). When asked when he last consumed alcohol, he replied "three hours ago," charges said.
Troopers later located a 1.75-liter bottle of Fireball whiskey in Bullard’s backpack that was roughly 1/3 empty, according to charges. He also possessed a colored plastic drinking container in a cup holder that contained an alcohol-mixed beverage that had an odor similar to Fireball.
One adult chaperone witness told troopers he observed Bullard drinking from the colored plastic container as he drove the bus, charges said.
Troopers later learned the children and adult chaperones riding on the bus were all part of a group bringing the children to a YMCA camp in northern Minnesota.
UPDATE: The YMCA tells us the driver involved was hired through Northfield Bus Lines. They provided the following statement:
On Sunday, August 21, we had campers and counselors enroute 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 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.