Latest Incident Renews Calls For Beathalyzers, Ignition Lock Devices On Buses

CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A Long Island school bus driver has pleaded not guilty to a charge of driving while ability impaired after police said he crashed a bus into a tree limb.

James Sommer, 47, was arraigned Tuesday in Central Islip. A judge set bail at $10,000 cash or $20,000 bond.

1010 WINS’ Mona Rivera reports

The Massapequa man was arrested Monday after he crashed a school bus carrying 29 Plainedge Middle School students during a field trip in Cold Spring Harbor, Suffolk County police said.

The students and a teacher were headed to the DNA Learning Center at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory when Sommer backed into a limb as he was trying to park the bus, police said. One student was taken to the hospital with minor injuries.

Jennifer Dorane’s 12-year-old was among the group of seventh graders on board.

“I was scared,” she said. “I’m just thankful she made it home.”

Dorane said if it were up to her, Sommer would face 29 separate charges, one for each child on the bus.

Other parents said the alleged DWAI is especially shocking because school bus drivers are entrusted with children’s lives.

“It’s frightening as a parent to think that a bus driver would have such little regard for the lives of other people. Not just the children on the bus but other people on the road, and have the audacity to drink before getting behind that wheel,” a mother told CBS 2’s Weijia Jiang.

It was the third time in a month that a Long Island bus driver was charged for allegedly driving drunk on the job.

On Oct. 3, a mini school bus carrying five children crashed into the garage of a house in Syosset. Nassau County police said they later determined the driver, Frederick Flowers, was drunk at the time of the accident.

Then on Oct. 11, Robert Stundis was arrested after being accused of driving a mini-bus while drunk. Police said the 48-year-old had a half-empty bottle of vodka in the bus and registered a blood-alcohol level of .23, nearly triple the legal limit.

Plainedge mothers Lori Ferrantino and Jennifer Dorane at court in Central Islip for arraignment of James Sommer (credit: Mona Rivera/1010 WINS)

The incidents have sparked calls from Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice and State Sen. Charles Fuschillo for new safety measures that would put Breathalyzers and ignition interlock devices in all school buses in New York.

The ignition interlock devices would prevent the bus from starting if alcohol is detected on the driver’s breath.

If passed, the law would be the first of its kind anywhere in the nation.

Sommer’s defense attorney said his client wasn’t drunk and said Sommers will be exonerated once blood test results come in.

His next court date is set for Oct. 30.

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