DEDHAM (CBS) – A principal of the year is off the job after she was charged with drunk driving.
Dedham Middle School Principal Debra Gately was pulled over and arrested early Sunday morning in Weston.
According to the police report, a Waltham police officer driving behind Gately noticed she was driving erratically, so he followed her into a parking lot, where she got out of her car and hunched over as if she was going to vomit. That officer took her keys and called police.
“Debra had an extremely strong odor of an alcoholic beverage on her breath and was very hard to understand her as she spoke as her speech was significantly slurred,” the responding Weston officer wrote in the police report. “I also observed that her eyes were extremely red, glassy, and blood shot.”
The report says Gately told police she had three vodka drinks that night, and a chemical test later showed Gately had a blood alcohol level of .19. The legal limit in Massachusetts is .08.
The responding officer wrote that Gately failed several field sobriety tests, during which “she looked as if she would fall over at any second.” She was arrested and charged with OUI.
Dedham Superintendent Michael Welch put Gately on administrative leave after he was notified about the arrest.
“Based on the seriousness of the charges, I determined the best course of action was to immediately place Ms. Gately on leave so she has the time to focus on her situation and we can conduct a thorough investigation while minimizing the disruption this situation is causing in our community,” he said in a statement Wednesday.
Gately, 44, has been principal of the middle school since 2009.
She was named Massachusetts middle school principal of the year in 2015.
Welch said the incident is disappointing, and Gately “understands that her actions have generated unwanted attention for the school and the community.”
Michael Leoncini, who has children who go to Dedham Middle School, said he doesn’t think she should lose her job.
“She is a great principal, I’ve never had a problem with her,” Leoncini told WBZ NewsRadio 1030. “She’s a great lady, and like I said, people make mistakes.”
Leoncini did say he was upset with the school district for not notifying him that Gately was arrested and placed on leave. He said he learned of it from the media.
Nancy Kaaz said her children were talking about the incident when they came home from school Tuesday afternoon.
“I feel sorry for her. She made a mistake,” Kaaz told WBZ-TV. “Everyone enjoys working with her and the kids love her.”
“I don’t condone drinking and driving but many of us have made mistakes over the years and it’s an unfortunate incident,” parent Lisa MacKinnon said. “I personally don’t think she should be fired, but that’s not my decision to make.”
Parent Melissa Giannangelo said she was disheartened to hear the news. “Ms. Gately is a fantastic principal, very well-liked at this school, an advocate for the students and it’s just a sad situation,” Giannangelo said.
WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Kim Tunnicliffe reports