SYOSSET, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Nassau County Police have determined the driver of a mini bus that crashed into a Long Island house on Wednesday was drunk at the time of the accident.
Frederick Flowers, 66, has been charged with five counts of driving while intoxicated under Leandra’s Law, five counts of endangering the welfare of a child, five counts of reckless endangerment, and one count of driving while intoxicated with at least one child on a bus.
WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall reports
Officers noticed the smell of alcohol and slurred speech when they spoke to Flowers after the crash, police said.
“Our officers are trained, it’s one of the things that we do is arrest DWIs. So through officer observations, they determined that he may have been drinking and blood was taken at the hospital,” Nassau County Police Det. Vincent Garcia told reporters, including 1010 WINS’ Mona Rivera.
1010 WINS’ Mona Rivera reports
“It’s appalling. Here you had five children, it’s a miracle that they weren’t hurt,” Garcia said.
“You know you just take a risk, you really are. You know you are at the mercy of bus drivers,” a mother of one of the children told CBS 2’s Amy Dardashtian exclusively.
The mother wouldn’t go on camera but told Dardashtian she was beside herself when she got the call her 8-year-old son was on the bus.
“It was the worst feeling of my life. I thought I was gonna die. I have many words, but I just will not comment. I have many words,” the mother said.
Flowers, of Massapequa Park, was behind the wheel of the bus when it careened off the road and slammed into the garage of a house in Syosset at about 3:15 p.m. Wednesday, police said.
None of the five children, ages 5 to 9, on the bus were injured.
“It’s a little surreal,” homeowner Daniel Percell said. “I’ve seen similar things being a member of the Syosset Fire Department so I was prepared for it, but when it’s your own you have that little anxiety.”
At Flowers’ home Thursday, family members refused to comment, but neighbors were floored by the news.
“That was him? That’s not like him. Oh my god,” Linda Gagliardi said.
The bus, operated by First Student Inc., of 251 Main St. in Freeport, had just pulled out of the driveway of St. Edward the Confessor School when the accident occurred.
The Percells recently installed a brick pedestal for a light at the front of their driveway. They believe Flowers drove into it and it slowed the bus down, preventing a more serious crash.
“I’m so thankful that every one of them, you know, got out safely,” Christina Percell told CBS 2’s Dardashtian.
A statement from the bus company said Flowers has been a driver with company since March 2009 and had a clean driving record. First Student also said Flowers passed background checks before he was hired, including drug and alcohol screenings. The company said the drug and alcohol screenings continue through the driver’s tenure.
However, angry colleagues told CBS 2’s Dardashtian that Flowers violated the cardinal rule.
“You can’t drive and drink,” bus driver Herby Tummings said. “You’re transporting kids.”
The mother told CBS 2’s Dardashtian that Wednesday was the first day her son took the bus.
“I’m very nervous as you can see. I’m picking up my son today,” she said.
The bus company said it is conducting an internal investigation into the incident and Flowers has been suspended for the duration of the investigation.
Flowers was airlifted to Nassau University Medical Center where he was admitted for non-life threatening injuries, police said. Flowers was arraigned Thursday and is due back in court on Oct. 10. Bail was set at $50,000.
He faces up to four years in prison if convicted.
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