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Coach: Erratic Behavior Leads Tourney Bus Driver to Arrest

Tabatha Wethal
Gavel Tingey Injury Law Firm Unsplash

The bus driver chauffeuring the Duluth Denfeld boys basketball team from a tournament was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving, the Duluth News Tribune reported.

The 47-year-old bus driver was arrested late Thursday.

Denfeld head coach Phill Homere said he and the team observed erratic behavior throughout the day from the driver, before acknowledging it was time to confront him on the drive home.

The man is being held in St. Louis County Jail, awaiting five charges related to driving under the influence and having an open bottle in his possession.

“The players handled it really well,” Homere told the News Tribune. “It was definitely a different experience for all of us.”

The coach and his staff convinced the driver to pull over in Cotton, Minn., off U.S. Highway 53, where the driver was apprehended at around 6 p.m. Players were taken home in parents’ vehicles.

The Denfeld team was on its way home after having lost to Superior, 84-51, as part of the North Star State Hardwood Showcase in Hibbing.

There were eight players on board the bus at the time of the incident, which featured a series of events that the coaching staff found suspicious, including the driver clipping a stop sign near Hibbing High School on the way to the game.

Homere also told the newspaper that the driver exhibited road rage, honking his horn multiple times at cars on the way to the game.

“That was confusing to us, when he hit the stop sign, but he was nonchalant about it and said he apologized,” Homere said. “We figured at the time, he got us to the game safely.”

After the game, the team noticed the coach bus, normally parked right outside the gymnasium, idling a long way from the entrance. When the team boarded the bus, some 300 feet away, the driver said he didn’t have his phone to navigate and he didn’t know the way back.

After the coaches began navigating for him, the driver expressed being nervous because they were talking to him. The driver reportedly also made paranoid comments about a gun. When the driver came upon an operating snow plow, he appeared to confuse it with the authorities.

“He said, ‘I’m guessing this is for me,’ and came really close to hitting the plow,” Homere said.

By that point, Homere had been recording erratic statements being made by the driver and notified parents outside the bus to contact the authorities. After the coaches persuaded the driver off the bus, they gave him a bottle of water and he broke down crying.

Jail records credit the Minnesota State Patrol with arresting the man. The News Tribune generally does not name a suspect until the person is charged with a crime.

Homere said the players were seated at the back of the bus and were occupying themselves when the coaches began to figure out what was happening behind the wheel of the bus.

Later, players were away from the scene by the time authorities arrested the driver, Homere said. The driver told EMS workers he'd been drinking vodka, the coach said. 

The Duluth News Tribune reported that \the driver was not an employee at Duluth Public Schools, and that he worked for a contracted transportation company.

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