A bus driver, who court records say had a blood alcohol content more than three times the legal limit when she attempted to drive a group of scouts home from day camp, has been fired from the company she worked for, officials said.
Diane Juergens, 61, of Ridge was arrested Tuesday afternoon after she twice crashed the school bus carrying 10 children under the age 15 on the route home from Baiting Hollow Scout Camp. An employee of First Student Inc., she was charged with aggravated DWI under Leandra’s Law, which makes it an automatic felony to drive drunk while transporting a minor. She was also charged with leaving the scene of a crash and 10 counts of endangering the welfare of a child.
Ms. Juergens had picked the scouts and a counselor up shortly after 4 p.m. Tuesday before twice crashing on Sound Avenue just west of the camp. She first struck a tan GMC Yukon truck before continuing on and crashing into a stone pillar that for decades has marked the entrance to the Oak Hill community.
The camp counselor inside the bus and the camp director alerted Riverhead Town Police to her behavior, saying she appeared to be in an altered state and was possibly intoxicated, according to the criminal complaint filed at the town justice court.
A responding officer reported that Ms. Juergens has bloodshot eyes, smelled of alcohol and was unsteady on her feet. She failed multiple roadside sobriety tests and registered a 0.27% blood alcohol content on a subsequent breath test, according to the complaint.
“She could not stand balanced,” the complaint states.
A spokesperson for First Student Inc., a national company that operates chartered buses and provides transportation to school districts in Suffolk County, said Thursday that Ms. Juergens’ employment “has been terminated.” She had been employed there since January 2019, according to her Facebook profile.
“At First Student, there is nothing more important than the safety of the passengers we transport. We understand and share in the concern this incident has caused,” a company spokesperson said in a statement. “We are incredibly disappointed by our driver’s actions. Behavior such as this is unacceptable and does not align with the high standards we strive for in all we do. The driver has been terminated.
“Since the incident occurred, we have been working with police to support their investigation. Given this is an active investigation, we are unable to comment further.”
The Suffolk County Council of Boy Scouts of America offered the following statement:”Nothing is more important than the safety of our youth members. As part of our regular safety measures, we always have a staff member on board each bus that takes youth members to and from camp. Upon realizing that something was wrong with the bus driver, our staff member took immediate action, and we were able to safely remove all youth members from the bus and contact authorities. There were no injuries thanks to this quick action.”
The Tuesday incident had a ripple effect throughout the Baiting Hollow and scouting communities.
Nearby residents took to social media saying the stone pillar she destroyed was a landmark and an “icon.”
Alisa and John McMorris of Wading River, whose son Andrew was killed in a drunken driving crash in 2018 while hiking with fellow Boy Scouts in nearby Manorville, said in a statement that the news “horrified” them.
“How can this be that people still find the need to drive while impaired and endanger the welfare of innocent children!” they said in the statement. “It brings the pain of our son Andrew’s loss to the surface, and we sit in a pool of tears feeling like Andrew’s loss and so many others have been in vain.”
The McMorris’ said such incidents could be prevented through legislation to install drunk driving prevention technology in new automobiles. They are currently working with MADD to push such legislation in Washington and Albany. Ms. McMorris said just this week she spoke to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the Senate Majority Leader, and is hopeful that a pair of federal bills could be brought to the floors of the Senate and House of Representatives later this summer.
Baiting Hollow Scout Camp features a daily summer day camp for scouts operated by the Suffolk County Council of the Boy Scouts of America. The camp features two optional bus routes at an additional charge to campers. A North Shore Route carries campers from Dix Hills to Mount Sinai, then to the Sound Avenue camp. The South Shore Route makes stops from Bay Shore to Shirley.
Parents of the campers on the bus, which departs the camp shortly after 4 p.m. each day, were notified of the incident and returned to their families, police said.
Ms. Jergens pleaded not guilty in Riverhead Town Justice Court Wednesday and was released on her own recognizance with monitoring by the Suffolk County Probation Department, court officials said. She is due back in court Tuesday.