Vale district mum superintendent mishap

Written for The Argus Observer. Published on Februray 20, 2015.  A follow-up story was published on March 12, 2015. One more follow-up story was published on April 14, 2015. 

A Vale school official has been out of the office for three weeks after an intoxicated driving investigation.

Matt Hawley, superintendent of the Vale School District and high school football coach, hasn’t been in the office since Jan. 31. Hawley was not arrested, nor was he given a citation after an investigation. Vale’s school board chairman would not comment.

“I can’t talk to you about that. It’s an employee matter, and we can’t discuss employee matters,” school board chairman Topper Schlupe said. “We appointed Dr. Stephen Phillips as an interim superintendent. He’s filling in until Matt gets back.”

Hawley’s phone number in Vale has been disconnected. He did not return two calls on his cellphone, which went straight to voicemail.

Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe said Hawley wasn’t issued a citation or arrested because he was not on public property when he came in contact with law enforcement.

“When we got there, he’d been on scene on the private property for a while and statements were that he had consumed alcohol after he’d been on private property,” Wolfe said. “In a situation like that, you have no way to prove impairment when he was on the public road.”

“It is not illegal to drink alcohol and drive,” Wolfe added. “It’s unlawful to drive under the influence.”

The Jan. 31 incident began on Smith Road in Vale, where dispatchers told sheriff’s deputies someone had complained of an impaired driver yelling and revving his car engine, according to a sheriff’s report. Deputies Casey Walker and Brian Belnap responded and found Hawley in a white sedan stuck in the mud behind a house on Haul Road, which is near Smith Drive.

The house belongs to Hawley’s girlfriend of more than a year, Nichole Crane, according to the report.

“The operator was moving the vehicle back and forth in an attempt to get unstuck,” the report says. “It seemed to be only making things worse and it appeared the operator was about to back into a red trailer if they kept it up.”

Deputies asked Hawley to step out of his vehicle. He complied.

Walker said in his report he could smell an “overwhelming odor” of alcohol on Hawley’s breath and said Hawley gave contradicting information about when he’d started drinking that evening.

The deputy said Hawley had a bottle of “hard alcohol” behind the driver’s seat. Hawley said he had been drinking in his car while parked at Crane’s house, which isn’t illegal.

The deputies also spoke to a neighbor who said he had seen Hawley driving. Todd Applegate said Hawley had driven to Crane’s, then to Applegate’s house, looking for his girlfriend. She wasn’t at Applegate’s home on James Lane, so Hawley drove back to Haul Road.

Applegate said Hawley had appeared drunk.

Malheur County Deputy Sgt. David Kesey arrived on the scene and, after a conversation with Hawley, they obtained permission from Crane to leave Hawley’s car on her property. Kesey gave him a ride back to Hawley’s Vale residence.

Vale School District employees would not comment on the situation after six phone calls inquiring where their superintendent is and how long he will be gone. Wolfe said he didn’t know either.

“I have no idea where he is now,” Wolfe said.

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