Fifty-one years of transporting Howard County students to and from school ended Thursday for an Elkridge school bus contractor when the county school board terminated his service.
The board canceled the 15 contracts held by Brown's Motor Tours Inc. that had been suspendedby school officials on March 20 pending a board hearing. The suspension came 10 days after former Brown's driver Wanda J. Wilson pleaded guilty in District Court to driving while intoxicated in a November school bus accident.
Board members heard owner Keith L. Brown's appeal of the suspension March 31.
The action left 20 buses idled and 21 drivers unemployed. Two of the 23 drivers who worked for Brown's were reported earlier to have taken jobs with other contractors who filled in on Brown'sroutes after the suspension.
Standing outside the board meeting room after Thursday's vote, Brown said he hadn't decided whether he would appeal in court. Several drivers who had worked for him encouraged him to continue the fight.
"This is a disheartening day, but they haven't won yet," said former Brown's driver Linda Craft of Elkridge.
Board Vice Chairman Dana F. Hanna said he believed newspaper accounts created an inaccurate impression that termination of the contracts was based on the Wilson case. County police reported that Wilson's bus struck a mailbox and a wooden fence, and hit a utility pole asshe transported students from Patuxent Valley Middle School the afternoon of Nov. 20.
Assistant State's Attorney Michael Weal reportedthat she registered a .37 on Breathalyzer tests after the accident, nearly four times Maryland's legal limit.
"The (Wilson) incident itself is not Keith Brown's problem per se," Hanna said. He said he also considered: the record of major safety defects on Brown's buses (amajor safety defect is one for which the Motor Vehicle Administration removes the bus's license tags until it is corrected); $25,000 in overstated mileage for October 1991; driver competence and what Hanna saw as the contractor's failure to take steps to prevent future incidents similar to the Wilson case.
Asked about the timing of the suspension, Hanna replied, "I would think it remiss if the staff didn't take a situation like this to take a real hard look at everything" relating to Brown's contracts.
Board Chairman Deborah D. Kendig saidBrown's record of 24 major bus safety defects since April 1, 1988 weighed heavily in her decision. She acknowledged that pupil transportation staff members testified at the March 31 hearing that Brown's record was the worst among county contractors, but said the board did not ask for details of other contractors' records.
"We were evaluating Mr. Brown's record in relation to his management of the board's contracts," she said.
Brown said he did not believe board members understood that a major defect is not necessarily a safety threat to bus riders.
"That just freaked them out when they heard major defects."
The MVA defines a major defect as one that "may make the vehicle unsafe or unfit for transportation of passengers," said MVA publicinformation officer James P. Lang.
Lang said a decision to pull the tags depends on how far an individual bus is from meeting state standards on a checklist. For example, an inspector looks at how badly brake drums are worn or how much give there is in the tie rods, he said.