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Probation ordered for drunken bus driver arrested in Carlton County

Patrick Bullard reportedly drank Fireball while transporting YMCA campers age 11-14.

A courtroom gavel
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CARLTON — A commercial bus driver has admitted to drinking whisky while transporting nearly three dozen children to an Iron Range summer camp in August.

Patrick David Bullard, 49, of Cannon Falls, Minnesota, pleaded guilty last week in State District Court to a gross misdemeanor count of driving while impaired. Judge Rebekka Stumme sentenced him at the same hearing to a year in jail, but stayed the time for two years of supervised probation.

(BULLARD, PATRICK DAVID - #CA2200645).jpg
Patrick David Bullard

Bullard was driving the Twin Cities-area kids to YMCA Camp Warren, on Half Moon Lake, just south of Eveleth, when he was stopped and arrested along Interstate 35 in Carlton County on Aug. 21. Court documents indicate he was driving erratically and that those aboard the bus reported he was drinking from a cup that troopers later determined to contain a mixture that included Fireball Whisky.

A roadside breath test reportedly placed Bullard's blood-alcohol concentration at 0.257 — more than three times the legal limit in Minnesota. The 35 children aboard the bus ranged in age from 11-14 and were accompanied by two adult chaperones.

Bullard, who was fired following his arrest, already completed one condition of probation — attending a Mothers Against Drunk Driving victim-impact panel — according to a certificate filed with the court.

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He must also abstain from alcohol, avoid bars, comply with random testing and ignition interlock requirements, among other conditions of probation. Stumme additionally imposed 40 hours of community service and a total of $1,110 in fines and fees.

The Carlton County Attorney's Office dismissed three other counts, per the terms of a plea agreement.

According to court documents:

The Minnesota State Patrol was alerted that the charter bus was being driven shoulder to shoulder along the northbound lanes of I-35, almost crashing into the ditch on at least one occasion. Troopers found the bus, observing as it swerved onto the shoulder and kicked up dust.

Shawn Zelazny was more than twice the legal limit when he was arrested on the way back from a Hibbing holiday tournament.

The officers activated their emergency lights, but Bullard apparently did not notice as the bus "continued to weave considerably out of its lane of travel." After activating their sirens and pulling up next to the driver, Bullard finally pulled over, neglecting to use the parking brake and causing the bus to begin rolling backward.

Troopers reported that he "seemed quite dazed and disoriented," with watery eyes, slurred speech and slow, deliberate motions. Bullard, unsteady on his feet, was asked to step off the bus and perform field-sobriety tests, all of which indicated impairment. He initially claimed that his last drink was a few days prior, and then said it was about three hours before the stop.

Troopers found a 1.75-liter bottle of Fireball, approximately one-third empty, in Bullard's backpack. Next to the driver's seat was a mixed beverage that apparently contained the alcohol. A chaperone confirmed to troopers that Bullard had been drinking from the container while driving.

Taken to the Carlton County Law Enforcement Center for further investigation, Bullard refused to provide another breath test, "because I don't want to." He was given a chance to call an attorney, but instead only contacted his supervisor.

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Joan Schimml, a spokeswoman for YMCA of the North, told the News Tribune in August that public safety officials drove the bus to a nearby gas station and waited with the passengers until a new driver arrived and completed the trip. She said the YMCA had been using Eagan, Minnesota-based Northfield Lines without issue for nearly two decades, but would review their relationship following the incident.

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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