By all accounts, when school bus driver Jerry McNeill arrived at work, he appeared drunk. His colleagues could see all the signs of impairment even before 39 children climbed aboard the bus he was to drive from a Scarborough water park to downtown Toronto on July 27, 2007.
In court, they testified McNeill seemed unbalanced. He couldn’t make coherent conversation. He had difficulty eating a hotdog and kept missing his mouth. And when it was time to leave, he climbed on to the wrong bus and sat down, before realizing his mistake. He ignored advice from the dispatcher to stay put.
When the police picked him up going southbound on the Don Valley Parkway, they noticed his slurred speech, glassy stare, and a pungent odour on his breath.
A breathalyser test the officers gave him was inconclusive. At first, McNeill didn’t open his mouth enough; in the second attempt, his teeth obstructed the test. And the third attempt showed up as an error.
The officers then arrested McNeill and took him to the police station, where he appeared to “sober up,” although the odour of alcohol became more apparent.
But yesterday, a Toronto judge acquitted McNeill on alcohol-related charges, including failure to undergo a roadside breath test, and driving while impaired. He was, however, found guilty of dangerous driving due to a complex medical condition, which led him to act “drunken-like.”
In light of McNeill’s serious medical condition, the judge said he was shocked he would sign up to become a bus driver.
The judge also chided the actions of the police in administering the breath test, citing the officer who admitted he was not adequately trained to use the device. He also felt the three inconclusive results should have not been the basis for the arrest.
The Crown is seeking the harshest penalty of six months in jail and a three-year driving ban.
Sentencing was set for March 4.