Drunken Bus Driver Not Reported

Co-workers Saw Her Before Crash, Official Says

April 01, 1992|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff writer

Drivers for Brown's Motor Tours saw a co-worker who appeared intoxicated before beginning a November school bus run but did nothing aboutit, a county school official said.

Glenn J. Johnson, director of pupil transportation, spoke at a five-hour county school board hearing yesterday on whether a bus contractor should lose the right to transport students.

School officials suspended the 15 contracts held by Brown's MotorTours Inc. March 20, 10 days after a driver for the Elkridge contractor pleaded guilty in District Court to driving while intoxicated in the bus accident that occurred as she was taking students home from Patuxent Valley Middle School Nov. 27.

Much of the testimony focused on the accident. No one was hurt in the crash.

Johnson said he had interviewed five drivers, including one who worked for another contractor, who were at Brown's lot when driver Wanda J. Wilson picked up her bus the day of the accident.

"A number of drivers said it was their strong belief that she was very much intoxicated," Johnson said.

None of the drivers reported their concerns, said Brown's Motor Tours president Keith L. Brown, who was in another area of the lot gassing up buses.

Board member Dr. Karen B. Campbell came down hard on the drivers who saw Wilson and said nothing.

"I am appalled that you tell me there were a number of drivers who noted the unfit state of Ms. Wilson and allowed her to get on the bus," she said.

Attorney Richard D. Neidig, representing the school system administration, refused to release the drivers' names on grounds that they could lose their jobs.

The board began private deliberations after the hearing Tuesday, but gave no indication when it might reach a decision.

Wilson was charged after her bus hit a mailbox and a wooden fence in the 7800 block of Jones Road in Savage and jumped a curb and hita utility pole at Dorsey Run Road and Route 175, police reported. Prosecutors reported that the driver registered a .37 on a Breathalyzertest, nearly four times Maryland's .10 legal alcohol limit.

"I wasn't going back to work that day," Wilson told the board. She said she was upset on Nov. 27 and broke her rule of never drinking until after she finished her last bus run of the day.

Instead, she began todrink after the morning run and didn't follow through on her plan toask Brown to get a substitute for her for the afternoon run, she said.

"I don't remember anything after about 10 o'clock that morning," she said.

Neidig told the board that Wilson's accident is just one factor in the recommendation to terminate Brown's contracts. He said Keith Brown has proven unable to manage an operation of 15 contracts and 20 buses.

"As a staff, we're telling you we're not getting our money's worth" from the contract, Neidig said.

Johnson said a staff review of Brown's contracts back to April 1, 1988 showed: $25,000 in overstated mileage from the October 1991 mileage report; 24 major safety defects in bus inspections (a major defect is one for whichthe Motor Vehicle Administration lifts the bus's license plates until it is corrected); driver fitness and competence questions.

Johnson said Brown's contracts "have been a declining situation over the last 3 1/2 years or so. You just get to a point where you have to say,'Enough is enough.' "

He said Wilson's accident alone would not have justified terminating all Brown's contracts, but said his recommendation was based on the combination of factors.

Brown disputed the mileage calculated by the pupil transportation staff. He said mileage dropped between October and January because routes laid out at thestart of the school year are often shortened as drivers find more efficient ways to run the route. He said 11 of the major defects were corrected and the bus license plates returned before the inspector left and the remainder were corrected the following day.

Drivers for Brown countered competence questions reported in pupil transportationmemos, including one report that a driver was speeding up a hill.

"You cannot take a diesel bus and go 47 mph up a hill," said driver Beverly Pavlik of Jessup, who added that she went to court and the ticket she had received was dropped.

Brown's drivers and other contractors rallied behind the contractor, picketing in front of the Department of Education office before the hearing.

"It's not just Keithon trial here this morning," said Barbara J. Ely, president of the county school bus contractors association. "It's everyone."

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