A little after 3 p.m. on Thursday, the Rice Police Department got a tip that Erik Bonde, Rice’s 46-year-old newly elected mayor, had driven a van-sized school bus to Rice Elementary School.
That in and of itself wasn’t that surprising. Or at least it wouldn’t have been, on any other day. Since September, Bonde -- who’d won the mayoral seat with nearly 50 percent of the vote after moving to town just a year and a half earlier -- had been working as a driver for Metropolitan Transportation Network, the bus company used by the district.
The problem was, it hadn’t been the first time that day law enforcement had spoken with him. About an hour and a half earlier, an officer had told him not to get behind the wheel at all, because his driver’s license had been suspended.
So an officer and a couple of Benton County deputies headed to the school. Sure enough, they found Bonde in the driver’s seat, right where he shouldn’t have been. There were no students aboard yet.
The officers reminded him he shouldn’t be behind the wheel without a proper license, and that’s when they noticed his watery eyes and his slurred speech.
They also noticed an open container “that had alcohol in it,” according to Benton County Sheriff Troy Heck. He won’t say exactly what that beverage was, but thanks to a field sobriety test, one thing was certain: Bonde was too drunk to drive a busload of elementary schoolers, with or without a license.
He was placed under arrest and hauled to the Benton County Jail, where he stayed until he sobered up, and then was released without bail. He’d been caught drinking and driving once before, 12 years ago in Crow Wing County.
Heck wouldn’t say why Bonde’s license had been suspended in the first place -- not while the investigation is still ongoing. But in the meantime, Bonde has already lost his job with Metropolitan, according to the St. Cloud Times. Coincidentally, one of the children he was supposed to pick up was the grandchild of Metropolitan’s chief operating officer.
He’ll also have to appear in court to “answer for these charges,” said a press release from the sheriff’s department. Bonde himself didn’t return interview requests; citizens of Rice don't know whether he’ll continue as their mayor if he’s found guilty.
That question is “up to him,” Heck says.