A veteran county school bus contractor's 15 buses are parked and 21 drivers unemployed in the wake of one driver's conviction on charges of driving while intoxicated in a November accident.
The school board is scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday on whether to terminate the contracts held by Brown's Motor Tours Inc. of Elkridge. School officials suspended the contracts March 20 pending the hearing.
The action came 10 days after Wanda Jean Wilson, a former driver for Brown's, pleaded guilty in District Court to driving while intoxicated as she transported children home from Patuxent Valley Middle School.
Wilson registered a .37 on a Breathalyzer test after the Nov. 27 accident, nearly four times the .10 Maryland legal limit for intoxication, reported Michael Weal, senior assistant state's attorney. County police reported that the bus hit a mailbox and wooden fence, jumped a curb and hit a utility pole.
Keith Brown, president of Brown's Motor Tours, said the loss of his contracts "would shut me down.Ninety-five percent of my business is with the county. I can't afford to keep running with just 5 percent. I'd have to sell out and go out of business."
Brown said he has just four buses covered under private insurance that he can use for charter trips. He said that in addition to the daily school bus service, he had contracts for about 50school field trips through the end of this year. The suspension means he is also ineligible to transport students on field trips.
Drivers are rallying behind Brown and are circulating petitions asking the board not to terminate the contracts. They say the suspension unfairly penalizes them for one driver's actions.
"We don't think we should be punished for what one did," said Beverly Pavlik of Jessup, who says proudly that she has driven buses for Brown's for 26 years "and never so much as had a parking ticket."
Some of Brown's drivers were offered jobs with contractors who picked up his routes, but refused out of loyalty to their employer despite the financial sacrifice.Two of Brown's 23 drivers reportedly accepted routes with other contractors.
"I won't drive for anyone (else) in Howard County. Right now, I'm not driving for anyone because I believe Keith is being screwed," said driver Linda L. Lane of Elkridge, who has driven buses forBrown for about six years. She said that with two children, she and her husband could use the money.
The drivers who have rallied to Brown's support include veterans who have known him since childhood. Some transported him to school as drivers for his father, J. Leo Brown, who started the business in 1941 with the first contract awarded bythe county school system. Keith Brown took over 10 years ago. A driver with three bus runs can expect to earn about $180 a week, althoughsalaries vary from contractor to contractor.
Brown met with school transportation officials in December to discuss Wilson's arrest. Glenn J. Johnson, director of pupil transportation, wrote Brown in January that "as a result of this incident and other concerns, a full review of your performance as a school bus contractor from April 1, 1988to the present was conducted."
Johnson's letter said he was recommending termination of the contracts on the grounds that Brown had failed to live up to his obligations on driver fitness and competence, bus safety and maintenance, timely filing of reports and "inaccuracy of mileage reports."
Brown appealed to Sydney L. Cousin, associatesuperintendent for finance and operations, who upheld Johnson's decision. The next step in his appeal is the school board hearing.
Neither Johnson nor Richard D. Neidig, the lawyer representing the school system in the case, responded to requests for information. Cousin said the action was taken "because we are concerned about the safety of children." He refused to say whether it was related to Wilson's arrest.
The contractor said Wilson had a good attendance record, camein on time and he never observed her intoxicated. He said he did notsee her on the day of the accident, as he was pumping gas in anotherarea of the lot when Wilson picked up her bus.