Bangor High School Principal Paul Butler has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of failing to report an accident after his car struck a concrete barrier at Bass Park in August.
In exchange for his guilty plea, a misdemeanor charge of driving to endanger was dismissed. Butler paid a $750 fine, which totaled $940 with court surcharges.
The Penobscot County district attorney’s office never went forward with an additional drunken driving charge from the Aug. 7 crash, which Butler’s attorney described as a “minor event.”
The guilty plea came on Sept. 23, about three weeks before he was due to be arraigned in court on the charges.
Butler’s attorney, Terence Harrigan of Bangor, said that his client would have gone to trial and been found not guilty on both misdemeanor, Class E charges. However, it would have taken at least 18 months before a trial could be scheduled due to an enormous backlog of criminal cases that has built up during the pandemic, Harrigan said.
“My client did not want to wait that long,” Harrigan said.
Butler has been on paid administrative leave since the crash on Aug. 7. Assistant Principal Brian Doyle has been serving as interim principal of Bangor High School.
The school department has conducted its own investigation into the incident that led to the charges against Butler, said Raymond Phinney, safety and communications director for Bangor schools.
“The superintendent plans to make a decision on this issue at the end of next week,” Phinney said of Butler’s employment status.
The principal issued a statement Friday through his attorney.
“I’m grateful that the situation is resolving as close to the truth as I could have hoped,” Butler said. “I do understand the attention it has drawn even if it has been difficult to endure while allowing the process to play out — and I hope to make good on the promise I made to my closest supporters to turn this into a positive for myself and the people around me moving forward.”
Bangor police summoned Butler for operating under the influence of intoxicants and failure to report an accident after the Aug. 7 crash.
Butler’s blood alcohol level was .07 percent. Under Maine law, drivers with a blood alcohol level of .08 or greater may be charged with an OUI.
However, a person may be charged with OUI with a blood alcohol level above zero percent if the charge is supported by other evidence of impairment.
Prosecutors did not have that evidence, according to Harrigan.
District Attorney Marianne Lynch said Friday that “after a review of the evidence,” the state charged Butler with the two Class E crimes.
If the case had gone to trial, Harrigan said, the evidence would have shown that “this is nothing more than a collision with a badly placed, unilluminated barrier that other people almost hit during the day time, at 6 to 10 miles per hour.”
Butler left the scene with his four-way flashers on looking for a place to pull over to report the collision, the attorney said. He was stopped just before he was able to pull into the Tim Horton’s on Main Street to call 911.
“This was a minor event,” Harrigan said. “He was pulled over less than four minutes after the collision and about 100 feet from his destination.”
The penalty for Class E crimes is up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.