Carroll bus driver who won apology loses in court

September 01, 1992|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke may have apologized for the arrest of school bus driver Wenda K. Bollinger, but a judge yesterday fined the Carroll County woman $25 for failing to obey a police officer's order to move her bus during a field trip to the Maryland Science Center.

Ms. Bollinger was arrested May 20 while delivering a class of Sykesville Middle School sixth-graders to the Inner Harbor tourist attraction.

Judge Keith E. Mathews found the 36-year-old Mount Airy woman not guilty on charges of failing to provide officers with her license and registration and of failing to obey an officer's order made to prevent a public disturbance.

But the judge found the woman guilty of violating a Baltimore ordinance making it illegal to ignore the order of a police officer in a city park.

At times it was hard to tell who was on trial -- Ms. Bollinger or the Baltimore police officers who arrested her.

Officer Vernell Murdock came in for heavy criticism, with Ms. Bollinger and other defense witnesses claiming the plainclothes officer did not adequately identify herself, pounded on the windows of the school bus and repeatedly screamed that the driver had to move the bus because it was blocking traffic.

"I looked up and thought, 'This woman has just totally lost it,' " Ms. Bollinger testified, recalling the arrest.

"I thought, 'Who is this woman?' And I really thought in my mind that this was an irate person who wanted to get into the Science Center before this bus load of children."

Defense lawyer Fred Hecker told the judge: "It was not conduct consistent with what one would expect from a police officer."

Officer Murdock admitted she did not show her badge, but she said she displayed her police identification card while telling the driver to move the bus.

Officer Lavinia Davis' testimony that she immediately produced a badge upon her arrival was not contradicted.

In the end, Judge Mathews ruled the prosecution had failed to prove the driver's failure to obey the order led to a disturbance, but he said the woman was guilty of violating the park rule because she did not move the bus even after she knew the women were police officers.

The spectacle of a school bus driver being led in handcuffs from a field trip to the city's tourism center prompted Mayor Schmoke to send a letter to Sykesville Mayor Lloyd R. Helt, apologizing for the arrest.

In the letter, Mr. Schmoke said he was "deeply concerned about the apparent lack of sensitivity and professionalism" of the officers involved in the arrest.

Mr. Schmoke later visited Sykesville Middle School, where he assured 130 sixth-graders that his city is a nice place to visit.

Prosecutors said yesterday an offer was made to allow Ms. Bollinger to avoid trial by participating in the "diversion" program.

Sherrie Robinson-Bailey, chief of the District Court division of the Baltimore state's attorney's office, said defendants charged with minor crimes, especially first offenders, are given the chance to accept punishments such as community service in return for seeing charges against them dropped.

Ms. Robinson-Bailey would not say what specific offer was rejected by Ms. Bollinger.

She said prosecutors immersed in violent crime had hoped to avoid a trial against a school bus driver.

"I think it's an unfortunate incident for everyone involved," Ms. Robinson-Bailey said.

"I don't think anyone wanted to go to trial."

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