Bus company suspended over prom

8 Owings Mills seniors expelled for drinking

July 07, 1999|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

A charter bus driver's failure to report drinking by Owings Mills High School students on his bus en route to their prom has resulted in Yellow Transportation's temporary suspension from Baltimore County's Safe and Sober Prom Pledge Program.

"It would have been very difficult for the driver to not know what was going on," said Michael M. Gimbel, director of the county Department of Health's Bureau of Substance Abuse, which runs the pledge program.

The prom-night incident resulted in the expulsion of eight Owings Mills High School seniors who received their diplomas but were barred by school officials from the May 25 commencement. Yellow Transportation was suspended from the county program through a letter June 24.

Yellow Transportation, which took the job at the last minute when another company couldn't do it, didn't know the Owings Mills High School students were drinking, said company president Mark L. Joseph.

"The lesson we can draw from this incident is that operating a 21-passenger bus clearly is not like driving a limousine," he said. "In a standard limousine, the chauffeur has four or five passengers who are readily observable."

From now on, Yellow Transportation will ask large groups who want to rent a bus to provide at least one adult chaperon, Joseph said. "We value our reputation and care deeply about safety," he said.

The bus, chartered by parents, brought the students to the May 22 dance at a downtown Baltimore hotel.

At the time, parents and students criticized the suspensions, saying only half the students involved were punished.

County officials said the bus driver had at least two opportunities to search his vehicle for alcohol.

That he didn't do so shows negligence, Gimbel said.

As part of the Safe and Sober Prom Pledge Program, the county publishes a book of limousine, bus and van companies that promise to prohibit smoking, alcohol and drug use on prom night.

The list's credibility is "something we take very seriously," Gimbel said.

Program participants must enroll in a training seminar with the county Police Department and Maryland Public Service Commission, which checks vehicle safety. Yellow Transportation participated in a training session in November.

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