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Charges dismissed against New Richmond bus driver

Charges have been dismissed against a New Richmond school bus driver who allegedly had alcohol in her bloodstream at the time of a minor accident Dec. 11.

A motion and order to dismiss charges against Billie Jeanne O'Keefe of New Richmond was signed Feb. 25 by St. Croix County court officials.

According to police reports, preliminary breath tests indicated O'Keefe recorded a .046 blood alcohol level at the time of the accident. O'Keefe allegedly told officers that she was out celebrating her birthday the night before.

A test conducted later on O'Keefe registered a .026 alcohol level. The bus driver, who was placed on administrative leave, eventually pleaded not guilty to the charge that she was operating a commercial vehicle with a prohibited alcohol concentration of .04 or more.

"Upon further testing and clarifying, she did not have a prohibited concentration (of alcohol in her blood)," said O'Keefe's attorney Shirlene Perrin. "Clearly the PBT (portable breath test) was inaccurate."

Perrin said it's important for the public to know that charges have been dismissed in the case.

"There has been a lot of online discussion about this case and Ms. O'Keefe has been judged by some," she said. "Now we can see she is innocent."

New Richmond Police Chief Mark Samelstad said it was "the court's decision" not to prosecute the case.

"Apparently her alcohol content was not at a level that you could sustain a charge," he said. "She did have alcohol in her blood. As far as I'm concerned, when it comes to a school bus, any alcohol in your blood is unacceptable."

New Richmond School District Administrator Morrie Veilleux said O'Keefe has apparently returned to work as a bus monitor. She has not been driving a bus since the incident.

Veilleux said the district will invoke a portion of its bus contract that allows the school to ask the contractor, New Richmond Bus Service, to replace any school bus drivers who may be "detrimental to the best interest" of the district and its students.

"We're going to insist that this person not be allowed to operate a bus," Veilleux said.

Veilleux said the school board will be reviewing its school bus service contract in the future to strengthen the language regarding the suitability of some drivers to operate buses. The district is heading into the fourth year or a five-year contract with the New Richmond Bus Service.

The district's previous contract specifically required the service provider to discharge drivers who are found to be under the influence of alcohol. The previous contract also required drivers to abstain from alcohol use within eight hours of operating a bus.

The current contract, however, does not include language specifically addressing drivers under the influence of alcohol.

Despite that fact, Veilleux said the district is on solid legal footing in the current situation.