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Pasco Tribune

State Attorney seeks blood sample in O'Neill case

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Published:   |   Updated: August 12, 2013 at 01:38 PM

PORT RICHEY — State Attorney Bernie McCabe wants to know if paramedics drew blood from City Manager Tom O'Neill while they tended to him for nearly an hour while he was asleep behind the wheel of his car in middle of the night last month.

“I want to know if they drew blood and if they still have it,” McCabe said. “I would hope they wouldn't just toss it in the garbage.”

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 Northbay Hospital. McCabe is investigating a possible DUI charge and has subpoenaed O'Neill's medical records from the July 14 incident.

The dashboard video of the incident shows paramedics from New Port Richey and Pasco Fire Rescue tending to O'Neill. When he emerges from the vehicle, after more than 45 minutes, a bandage over the vein on his arm is visible.

New Port Richey Police Chief Kim Bogart said he was not told that blood might have been drawn on the night in question. But he also wasn't told about the dashboard video until weeks later — after the case drew media attention.

“Our policy says that if blood is drawn, it would be done at a medical establishment,” Bogart said.

City officials have refused to release the EMS report to the media or to McCabe, citing federal HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) regulations – which supercede Florida's public records law. Assistant Fire Chief Tim Exline said he told McCabe's office that he would need a waiver from O'Neill or a subpoena.

“They advised me that process was in motion,” he wrote in an email Friday.

Police Cpl. William Phillips attempted to administer a field sobriety test, but O'Neill was unresponsive.

Port Richey Police Chief Dave Brown, who describes himself as a close friend of O'Neill, told New Port Richey officers his friend was taking medication for a health condition. He 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.

Since O'Neill wasn't charged with drunken driving, police did not administer a breath test.

McCabe expects to get the hospital records early next week.

A Pasco Fire Rescue ambulance also responded to assist New Port Richey. It was the county's rescue unit that transported O'Neill to the hospital. Pasco Fire Chief Scott Cassin said he has not been contacted by the State Attorney's office.

O'Neill returned to work on Aug. 2 after taking personal leave.

The Port Richey City Council meets Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. Some council members have said they expect a discussion on the matter, but there is nothing on the agenda regarding O'Neill's employment status. He works at the discretion of the council and can be fired without cause, according to his contract.

lkinsler@tampatrib.com

(813) 371-1852

Twitter @LKinslerTBO

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