In this July 23, 2021, file photo, Bangor High School Principal Paul Butler speaks during the school's graduation ceremony at the high school grounds. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

Bangor High School’s principal will return from administrative leave on Monday after pleading guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of an accident.

Paul Butler had pleaded guilty on Sept. 23 to the misdemeanor charge of failing to report an accident after his car struck a concrete barrier at Bass Park in August. He has been on paid administrative leave since the crash, which happened Aug 7. 

An independent investigation initiated by the Bangor School Department found Butler wasn’t driving a vehicle under the influence and that his actions “were not consistent” with someone who was trying to flee a crash scene, the school system said Friday.

The department noted that Butler’s hazard lights were on after the crash and he had proceeded slowly before “safely” pulling over his car in a nearby parking lot.

Superintendent James Tager announced his decision in a meeting with faculty and staff at Bangor High School on Friday morning. 

“Because the evidence does not support a conclusion that Mr. Butler operated a motor vehicle under the influence or endangered the safety of others, I have determined that there is no basis for terminating Mr. Butler’s employment,” Tager said.

Tager said he had discussed the results of the investigation with Butler and had taken measures to address the principal’s actions. 

“Mr. Butler has admitted that he exercised poor judgment in connection with the incident, and he has demonstrated a commitment to addressing this going forward,” Tager said. 

In a statement Friday, Butler said that he was grateful to continue as principal.

“I am very thankful, and of course relieved, to have the chance to rebuild trust and confidence when I’ve given reason for those things to be questioned,” Butler said. “That will be my goal moving forward, beginning with students and faculty next week. I am really grateful for the opportunity to see that through in a community that I love and in a school system that has been the center of my personal and professional life for nearly all of it.”

The Penobscot County district attorney’s office didn’t go forward with a drunken driving charge. Butler’s blood alcohol level was 0.07 percent. 

Describing the crash as a “minor event,” Butler’s attorney, Terence Harrigan of Bangor, said earlier this month that his client would have been found not guilty of leaving the scene of an accident and a driving to endanger charge if the case had gone to trial. The latter charge was dismissed after Butler’s guilty plea.

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 paid a $750 fine, which totaled $940 with court surcharges.

Under Maine law, drivers with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or greater may be charged with operating under the influence. However, a person may be charged with OUI with a blood alcohol level above zero if the charge is supported by other evidence of impairment.

Butler, who graduated from Bangor High School in 1989 before attending Colby College in Waterville, has served as principal of the high school since 2011. Prior to that, at various times he led the district’s gifted and talented and Title I programs, served as a principal of Bangor’s Fairmount School, and taught English at the city’s James F. Doughty School.

Brian Doyle, one of the high school’s two assistant principals, has served as interim principal during Butler’s absence.