MTA says it is sorry kids were detained

Driver stopped bus, confiscated passes after a few children cursed her

Passengers held nearly an hour

Parents unsuccessfully pleaded for their release

September 18, 2002|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

Maryland Transit Administration officials issued an apology yesterday for the behavior of a driver who held children from Roland Park Elementary/Middle School against their will aboard her broken-down bus for nearly an hour Monday, even as parents pleaded for their release.

"The MTA certainly feels that we could have handled the situation better," said spokeswoman Suzanne Bond.

The incident began about 4 p.m. aboard a No. 44 bus carrying several dozen children ages 11 to 13. After the driver heard several profanity-laced remarks directed at her and other young passengers, the MTA said, she parked at Northern Parkway and Charles Street and called for order.

The driver, whose identity was not divulged, asked the pupils to stop cussing and to identify themselves. None immediately came forward. She continued to ask, and after several minutes, three children -- apparently the culprits -- got off, the MTA said.

Then the bus would not start, and the children began to "get a little bit rowdy," Bond said.

One of the young riders, seventh-grader Andrea Bell, said yesterday that the children wanted to get off the bus because it was hot and crowded.

She said the driver threatened to call the police and ordered them to hand over their MTA student bus passes. When the driver had the passes, Andrea said, she told the riders, "I'm turning in all your names. You'll be suspended and you'll be thrown in jail. If they don't catch you today, they'll catch you tomorrow."

"Everybody was crying and thinking the worst," she said.

Using a bus phone, Bond said, the driver called a supervisor, who instructed her to stay put until MTA police and mechanics arrived to maintain order and aid in a possible transfer of the children to another bus.

Meanwhile, some children -- including Andrea -- used cell phones to reach parents and tell them what had occurred. Andrea's mother, Angela Bell, was among several who got to the scene, leaving work early to get her daughter. She said the driver would not release Andrea and wouldn't say why.

Bell told her daughter to dial 911 and report that she was being held hostage on the bus. About five minutes later, Bell said, the MTA police arrived.

Bond said the driver had been directed by a supervisor to keep the children until the MTA police arrived -- though angry parents, some yelling at her from outside, wanted them off.

"The operator kept the kids on the bus, much to the consternation of the parents," Bond said.

Parents said that even after the police arrived, the driver would not open the door -- which an officer pried open.

City schools spokeswoman Vanessa Pyatt said that when Roland Park Principal Mariale Hardiman arrived, the driver refused to give her the confiscated bus passes. Hardiman was eventually able to get the passes and return them to the children.

Parents have filed a false-imprisonment complaint with MTA police. Bond said the "novice" driver was reassigned to a nondriving position while the MTA reviews the incident.

Pyatt said school officials are asking for a meeting with the MTA to discuss the incident. "Our concern obviously is the action that was taken on the part of the bus driver," she said. "There was no wrongdoing on the part of the students."

Sun staff writer Erika Niedowski contributed to this article.

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