Reports that the driver of a contracted Somers School District bus who was transporting students was “acting strange,” prompted the arrest of the 61-year-old man for driving while intoxicated under Leandra's Law, authorities said.
According to New York State Police in the Somers barracks, William J. Mendez, of Somers, was operating the school bus from Primose Elementary School and Somers Intermediate School at the time of the incident on Monday, Dec. 9. Mendez was employed by Royal Coach Line, state police said.
"It was reported to our district that the driver of one of our contracted school buses was 'acting strange,' " Somers Superintendent Raymond H. Blanch said in a statement released by the school disrict. "The driver was immediately instructed by radio to stop the bus and he did not comply right away.
"Approximately seven minutes after the initial report, the driver was met by the Somers Central School District’s Director of Transportation and two Royal Coach Line employees.
"Our priority was to verify the safety of the students on the bus, which was coordinated on-site by the district's transportation director.
"The bus driver was transported back to the bus garage by the Royal Coach Lines terminal manager. An ambulance was then called for the driver and he was transported to the hospital. A New York State Police trooper was also at the bus garage."
An investigation revealed that Mendez was under the influence of alcohol with a blood-alcohol concentration of .22 percent, three times the legal limit, state police said.
Mendez, who was relieved of his duties, was arrested and charged with aggravated driving while intoxicated under Leandra's Law, a felony, and driving while intoxicated on Wednesday, Dec. 18.
"We are working with the New York State Police and the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office as they continue to investigate," Blanch said. "I am so very sorry that our children and families in this community have been impacted by the unfathomable actions of one person."
Blanch said that "while it is impossible to prevent all criminal acts against our district, our administrative team and the district’s safety and security consultant, Altaris, have already initiated an internal investigation into the incident to verify compliance with safety regulations and to determine what opportunities exist for improvement to our procedures.
"It is always our goal to be transparent regarding incidents that impact our district. We will follow the lead of the District Attorney’s Office in sharing information without compromising the ongoing investigation and its potential prosecution.
"As superintendent, and more importantly as a parent, I fully understand the emotional impact that this incident has had on our students, families and staff. Bus P students were met on the bus the following morning by SIS Principal Liz Turner and Assistant Principal Linda Belger, who offered their personal support and the support of our counseling staff.
"We are committed to providing any and all resources to assist our school community in dealing with this incident and ensuring the safety and security of our students and staff."
Mendez was arraigned before the town of Somers Court, and released on his own recognizance to reappear before the court on Monday, Jan. 6.
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