By Mike Lednovich
Fernandina Beach’s new city manager, Ty Ross, said he was alcohol-impaired riding his bicycle on Oct. 29 when he crashed into the pavement and eventually had to be driven home by a city police officer.
Ross had been on the job as the city manager for just 13 days when police were summoned at 7:36 p.m. to a report of “a young man with a bicycle laying in the grass rolling around” near the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and 14th Street, according to the Fernandina Beach Police incident report.
Approximately 20 minutes later, Officer Colby Sears reported giving Ross a ride to a house he is renting.
In an email apology sent Thursday to the “esteemed residents of Fernandina Beach,” Ross stated:
“I am writing to you today with a heavy heart, filled with sincere remorse and regret for my actions on the evening of October 29th. As your City Manager, I hold myself to the highest standards of conduct, and my behavior that night fell far short of those standards.
“Around 7 PM on Oct. 29th, I had a bicycle accident on Atlantic Avenue. I fell pretty hard and messed up my bike. The accident bent up the handlebars and scratched up the paint job. I also hurt my wrist but sustained no permanent damage. Bad day obviously. The police responded to a call for aid and gave me a ride home. This probably would not have happened had I not had too many drinks downtown that afternoon.
“The whole thing was scary because I wasn’t wearing a helmet, and I could have been injured badly. Fortunately, I wasn’t. The only lasting injury is to my pride, as I am deeply embarrassed.
“I humbly ask for your forgiveness and understanding. I am committed to earning back your trust and serving our community with the integrity and responsibility that you deserve.”
Fernandina Police Chief Jeffrey Tambasco said there were no witnesses to Ross riding the bicycle nor of him crashing to the ground.
Under Florida law, a person would be considered to be riding a bike under the influence of alcohol if their blood alcohol level is 0.08 or more. The penalty for conviction of a DUI bicycle charge is a fine between $500 and $1,000, and up to six months in jail.
“Technically, since he (Ross) was on the ground when the officer arrived and not on the bicycle, there was no proof of a crime, so no breathalyzer test was administered,” Tambasco said. “The injuries sustained were not severe, so paramedics were not called to the scene. The incident was captured on the officer’s body camera.”
Ross did not respond to an email from the Observer asking for details of the incident and how he planned to proceed going forward.
The city’s employee handbook states the following:
“The city’s reputation for integrity and excellence requires careful observance of the spirit and letter of all applicable laws and regulations, as well as a scrupulous regard for the highest standards of conduct and personal integrity.
“The continued success of the city is dependent upon the trust of its citizens and City staff is dedicated to preserving that trust. Employees, whether on or off duty, owe a duty to the City and its citizens to act in a way that will merit the continued trust and confidence of the public.”
The handbook goes on to say, “Disregarding or failing to comply with this standard of ethics and conduct could lead to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment.”
City commissioners were waiting for more details about the incident before passing judgement on Ross’ behavior.
“I was made aware late last evening of a bicycle accident that occurred a month ago that involved the city manager. While having no more details than has already been reported in the media, I urge understanding and caution against a rush to judgment. As I am sure more details of the accident will be reported in the coming days, it would be inappropriate to comment on any potential action that could be taken by the commission,” said Commissioner Darron Ayscue.
Commissioner Chip Ross said “Apparently the police officer who responded to the call was wearing a body camera and the footage has not been released by the city. I am reserving comment until I personally review the video.”
Mayor Bradley Bean, Vice Mayor David Sturges and Commissioner James Antun did not respond to requests for comment.