Prosecutor: Camp driver had beer on bus, twice passed stop to pick up more campers

The bus driver who was allegedly drunk last month when she twice crashed transporting campers home from the Baiting Hollow Scout Camp had an empty beer bottle near her seat on the bus, a prosecutor said at her arraignment in Suffolk County Criminal Court Tuesday.

Diane Juergens, 61, of Ridge pleaded not guilty to a 38-count grand jury indictment that includes 20 felony counts of aggravated DWI with a child in the vehicle and 10 counts of endangering the welfare of a child, court records show.

Assistant Suffolk County District Attorney Kim Carson told Judge Stephen Braslow that Ms. Juergens crashed the bus twice after a camp counselor on board told her she had missed the second stop at the camp, failing to pick up the remaining camp attendees she was supposed to drive home July 13. She backed into a stone pillar on Sound Avenue that for decades has marked the entrance to the Oak Hill community as she attempted to make a u-turn before crashing into a tan GMC Yukon as she attempted to make her way back to camp to pick up the additional campers. Ms. Carson said that while the driver of the truck stopped, Ms. Juergens did not as she again passed the other stop at the camp.

“She drove right past the second stop where the campers were still waiting and went right back to the original location where she [had] picked up the campers who were already on the bus,” Ms. Carson told Judge Braslow.

At a press conference following the arraignment, Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini said a blood sample taken following her arrest revealed Ms. Juergens had a .30% blood alcohol content, more than three times the legal limit.

“That is not someone who can function at all,” Mr. Sini said. “And she chose to get behind that wheel and endanger the life of each and every one of those children.”

Mr. Sini and prosecutor Kim Carson were joined at the press conference by parents of Andrew McMorris and Dennis Lane. (Credit: Grant Parpan) 

Mr. Sini also pointed out that Ms. Juergens was about 30 minutes late picking up the campers.

Speaking with his client at his side outside the courtroom, Ms. Juergens’ attorney, Dennis Lemke of Mineola said she’s “very sorry.”

“She’s thankful no one was hurt at all,” he said.

Mr. Sini was joined at the press conference by Alisa McMorris of Wading River, whose son Andrew was killed by a drunken driver while hiking with fellow Scouts in 2018, and the parents of Dennis Lane, who was injured in the same crash. The district attorney pointed out that just weeks before Ms. Juergens’ arrest, a lodge at Baiting Hollow Scout Camp was dedicated in the McMorris’ name.

“The irony could not be thicker,” Mr. Sini said.

Ms. Juergens at Tuesday’s arraignment. (Credit: James Carbone/Newsday) 

Ms. McMorris said she could not put into words how difficult it was to learn of Ms. Juergens’ arrest involving scouts from the camp where her son had recently been honored.

“When my son passed away I was naive enough to think that people on Long Island would be shook and it would change what we were doing, but that is clearly not the case,” she said.

Ms. McMorris said she believes the best way to prevent such incidents is to pass legislation to make mandatory anti-drunk driving technology in new automobiles.

If convicted of the top charge under Leandra’s Law, Ms. Juergens faces 2 1/3 to 7 years in prison, Mr. Sini said. She remains free without bail, but with alcohol monitoring from the Suffolk County Department of Probation. Her driver’s license has also been suspended and an order of protection has been issued for each of the passengers on the bus.

A spokesperson for First Student Inc., a national company that operates chartered buses and provides transportation to school districts in Suffolk County, said last month that Ms. Juergens’ employment had been terminated.

She’s due back in court for a conference on Sept. 15.