PORT RICHEY — Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe filed a DUI charge Thursday against Port Richey City Manager Tom O’Neill, who police discovered unconscious behind the wheel of his car the night of July 13.
O’Neill, 59, was unresponsive and smelled of alcohol, but New Port Richey police did not charge him with drunken driving. Instead, the traffic stop was reclassified as a “welfare check” and O’Neill was taken to Morton Plant North Bay Hospital, in New Port Richey.
McCabe subpoenaed O’Neill’s medical records from the incident as well as the EMS report. O’Neill’s blood alcohol content was listed as “pending” on the citation, but the charging document stated that O’Neill was “under the influence of alcoholic beverages, and was affected to the extent that his normal faculties were impaired” or that his blood alcohol content exceeded the legal limit of .08.
The case has raised questions as to whether O’Neill, a former New Port Richey city manager, received special treatment from police.
Police released dashboard video that shows an individual who was unable to stand or walk without assistance from paramedics. New Port Richey Police Cpl. William Phillips, who was first on the scene, requested back-up from outside agencies but the only agency that was available to respond was Port Richey Police.
The Port Richey officer videotaped the incident, but he also called Port Richey Police Chief Dave Brown to the scene. Brown, who is O’Neill’s employee and also describes himself as a close friend, told Phillips his boss was taking medication for a health condition. Brown then followed the ambulance to the hospital and later gave O’Neill a ride home. The Port Richey police drove O’Neill’s car to his house, and Phillips returned the car keys to O’Neill at the hospital.
O’Neill has refused to publicly disclose the medical condition he has said he was suffering from the night of the incident. His arraignment on a single misdemeanor count of DUI is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Sept. 12.
McCabe said his office is not looking into whether there was misconduct by any of the officers involved in the case. “I didn’t come across anything that would warrant a further review,” he said. “It’s been fairly well reported what happened that night. I only look at criminal stuff.”
Port Richey’s mayor and council discussed the incident during their Aug. 13 meeting and have stood behind O’Neill, who was hired as city manager in 2011 after a 35-year career with the city of New Port Richey.
“At this point the legal process needs to go forward,” Councilman Steve O’Neill said.
Steve O’Neill, no relation to Tom O’Neill, said Brown’s behavior on the night in question needs to be addressed.
“There will be two components to this — and I don’t think it’ll be water under the bridge,” he said. “At some point, questions will be asked and answered.”