Dunnellon High School driver's ed teacher, football coach arrested on DUI charge

William Harris, 42, is on paid leave, officials say

By Melodi Smith - Multimedia Journalist, Amanda Castro - Reporter/Anchor

MARION COUNTY, Fla. - A Marion County High School driver's education teacher who was set to start teaching his course on Monday is  on paid administrative leave after he was arrested for driving under the influence after in a hit-and-run accident on Saturday, police said.

District officials said 42-year-old William Harris, who is also the head coach of the Dunnellon High School football team, is on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of a district investigation.

Ocala police said they responded Saturday evening to a hit-and-run crash in front of the Paddock Mall, where a black Chevy pickup truck rear-ended a car. The driver of the truck was later identified as Harris.

The driver of the vehicle that was hit in the crash called 911 and began to follow Harris.

"Basically gave us a play by play of where he was," Ocala Police Department Capt. Lou Biondi said. "Anytime there's a crash and it takes officers time to get there, the bad guy in any case has the luxury of getting away. So in this case, the citizen was extremely helpful."

Two officers who pulled over Harris on Highway 40 said they noticed a strong alcohol odor coming from the vehicle. The officers said Harris' vehicle had red plastic pieces stuck to the front bumper and it appeared that some red plastic also covered a taillight, the report said.

"There were indicators that he had been drinking. He had some bloodshot eyes, they looked glassy, he had slurred speech and he admitted that he had been drinking," Biondi said.

He was asked if he had anything to drink, and told officers "not much." When the officers tried to clarify, he said, "I wouldn't say too much," and then said he drank a couple of beers, the report said.

When officers asked Harris to step out of his vehicle, he was unsteady on his feet and kept tripping even though there was nothing for him to trip on, the report said.

Harris pleaded with officers to have his son come and pick him up and not give cite him for DUI, police said. Harris told officers that he was playing in a golf tournament and had been drinking, saying, "That's probably not a good idea," the report said.

"If you're an authoritative figure, a police officer, a teacher or something like that, and things like this happen, we're all human. It does happen. But the public holds us to a higher standard and we're supposed to be mentors," Biondi said. 

Officers told Harris to be careful walking. "I got skills," he replied, according to the report.

Harris failed field sobriety tests and refused to submit to a Breathalyzer test.

The report said Harris told officers that he understood the consequences when he refused to submit to the breath test.

Harris was arrested for driving under the influence and hit-and-run causing bodily harm and was taken to the Marion County Jail.

Harris was scheduled to teach a driver's education course this summer, according to Marion County Schools spokesman Kevin Christian.

Harris said in the driver's ed course overview on the high school's website that his students will learn "the skills they need to possess to be safe and effective drivers."

Harris started at Dunnellon High School in 2014 as the head football coach, physical education teacher, and driver's education instructor, officials said. Harris is placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the district's investigation. 

Harris has been teaching for 18 years, the district said.

News 6 requested Harris' personnel file. He had no complaints or write-ups filed with the district. 

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