On February 9, Mark McNeill, a 60-year-old former bus driver for Flagler County schools, was taking home 35 students from Buddy Taylor Middle School. He was driving drunk.
Two days earlier, his school bus was involved in a crash in the F Section as he was carrying 23 students from Old Kings Elementary. He was at fault for that one–running a stop sign at Old Kings Road and Fanshawe Lane, and was cited.
In the Feb. 9 incident, when he had appeared drunk to bus depot employees before he left with the bus, McNeill was charged with felony child neglect, drunk driving with a blood alcohol level higher than 0.15 (the legal limit is 0.08), and resisting arrest. He was suspended from his job at the school district that month. He was fired on March 10.
On Monday, McNeill appeared in court in Bunnell before Circuit Judge Terence Perkins, ostensibly to plead out his case: the charging information filed by the State Attorney’s Office included more than a dozen names as part of his felony child neglect charge.
McNeill, by his own eventual admission, was again drunk.
“I think you’re impaired today, and I can’t take the plea,” Perkins told McNeill.
“You’re impaired,” Perkins said again.
“No, I’m not,” McNeill snapped. “I’m not impaired at all.” But he was clearly unsteady on his feet, grabbing on to the podium as he tried to stand before Perkins, next to his attorney, Anthony Duran Jr. (He said at one point he was sorry for having driven drunk and called it “a horrible mistake.”) The incident was first reported by WESH 2 News’s Clair Metz.
A judge cannot accept a plea when the defendant is not in full control of his or her capacities. “Let’s go ahead and get you tested,” Perkins told McNeill, who again snapped: “I’m not getting tested.” So Perkins told him he was being sent back to jail, “because I think you are impaired,” the judge told him, as a bailiff moved to placing handcuffs on McNeill.
“I’m not impaired at all,” he said, his voice–and his body–shaking. But he soon conceded: “You know what? I am impaired.” His attorney told him to stop talking.
Perkins revoked his $4,000 bond and McNeill was required to take a urinalysis test (the results are not available). In march his attorney had filed a motion objecting to the State Attorney’s efforts to acquire his medical records, arguing that the records were not relevant since McNeill had cooperated with law enforcement by providing a breath test. His behavior in court on Monday undermines that motion.
The afternoon McNeill drove the bus drunk, bus garage officials were made aware of his condition around 2 p.m., after he’d left. They called him on the bus radio to pull over. He did not. Some of them set chase and eventually got him to pull over in Seminole Woods. McNeill fell as he was stepping out of the bus. Flagler County sheriff’s deputies eventually arrived at the scene. He denied to them that he’d been drinking. He refused to perform field sobriety exercises. His arrest report describes him as “very belligerent and aggressive toward law enforcement.”
When he did take a breath test, it registered 0.320 and 0.310, an extremely high level. “If you are still conscious, you are in a stupor,” the College of St. Benedict’s “Understanding Blood Alcohol Content” page states. “You likely have no comprehension of where you are or what you are doing. There have been numerous cases of alcohol poisoning and death in this range of BAC. You are in need of medical help.”
McNeill remains at the Flagler County jail. His plea agreement, which had not been disclosed before the incident on Monday, may have been set aside by the State Attorney’s office: while McNeill has been rescheduled for a court appearance on Wednesday, it is docketed as a pre-trial, not a plea.