Bus driver transporting Denfeld boys' basketball team arrested for drunken driving
Denfeld coach, Phill Homere, recounts the erratic behavior that led him to call the authorities on the driver following a game last Thursday.
A 47-year-old man was arrested late Thursday for drunken driving while chauffeuring home the Duluth Denfeld boys’ basketball team from a tournament in Hibbing.
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.
Denfeld head coach Phill Homere confirmed details of the arrest, first reported by Fox 21 News of Duluth.
“The players handled it really well,” Homere told the News Tribune on Saturday. “It was definitely a different experience for all of us.”
Homere detailed how the team observed erratic behavior throughout the day from the driver, before acknowledging it was time to confront him on the drive home.
The coach and his staff convinced the driver to pull over in Cotton, Minnesota, 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.
Homere noted there were eight players on board the bus at the time of the incident, which featured a series of events triggering the coaching staff’s suspicion, including the driver clipping a stop sign near Hibbing High School on the way to the game.
Homere also said 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 complained of not having his phone for navigation or knowing the way home.
After the coaches began navigating for him, the driver expressed being nervous because they were talking to him. The driver even made paranoid comments about a gun. When the driver came upon an operating snow plow, he seemed to mistake it for the authorities, the Denfeld coach said.
“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 in Cotton, 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 at 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 driver was not an employee with Duluth Public Schools, rather he worked for a contracted transportation company.
The first-year Denfeld coach chalked it up as a lesson to file away. He said he’d be wary of drivers who don’t attend the games while they wait for return trips home, and that he’d be more apt to chat up the person responsible for operating team charters.
“We felt like he’s a professional driver, everything should be fine,” Homere said. “Next time we face a situation where the driver’s not out front, or doesn’t come inside to watch the game we’re going to be alarmed.”
This story was updated at 7:10 p.m. Jan. 1, 2022, to note that the driver was not a school district employee. It was originally posted at 2:52 p.m. Jan. 1, 2022.