A bus driver who was arrested for driving drunk while transporting 10 youths and a counselor home from Baiting Hollow Scout Camp last summer will avoid jail time, a judge announced at her sentencing Tuesday.
Diane Juergens, 62, of Ridge was sentenced to 840 hours of community service and five years probation when she appeared before Acting Supreme Court Justice Stephen Braslow at the Suffolk County criminal court building in Riverside. Judge Braslow said the community service was in lieu of six months jail time, which she would still serve if she fails to obey drug and alcohol conditions in her sentencing. Her driver’s license will also be revoked for 18 months.
“I put myself out for you because of the good things that you are doing for yourself,” Judge Braslow told Ms. Juergens, who said she has undergone grief and substance abuse counseling since her arrest last July 13. She pleaded guilty in April to all 38 counts in the grand jury indictment against her, including the top charge of aggravated driving while intoxicated and 20 counts of aggravated DWI with a child in the vehicle.
The judge called Ms. Juergens a “raging alcoholic,” who built an alcohol tolerance through daily drinking. He said it’s his opinion that criminal offenses related to alcohol and drug abuse have reached epidemic levels in Suffolk County.
“This is a broken county,” Judge Braslow told the courtroom. “I’m carrying terrible cases to the level that I’ve never seen before as a judge in this county for 27 years. It’s an epidemic of abuse on the roads and elsewhere.”
Gina Carter of Bohemia, whose 9-year-old son was one of 10 children on the bus that afternoon, addressed the judge prior to sentencing. She said it was important for her to speak on behalf of the children on the bus and also for others “who can’t speak out because of someone else’s decision.” She spoke to how soon the incident occurred after the 2019 conviction of Thomas Murphy, who is currently serving an 8-to-25-year sentence in the drunken driving crash that caused the death of Wading River Boy Scout Andrew McMorris and injured others.
“We’ve got to make a stand as a community that this type of behavior is not acceptable,” Ms. Carter told Judge Braslow as Ms. Juergens listened. “We need to deter others from making the same choice. We need to make the statement that our community is not going to let people make reckless decisions and endanger the welfare of our children; that there are consequences for your choice.”
Ms. Juergens offered an apology to the children and their families and said she has made a lifelong commitment to staying sober. She said she’s reminded of her behavior each time she sees a school bus pass by.
“I was wrong,” Ms. Juergens told the judge. “I was responsible for these children’s lives. I betrayed [their] trust and I am truly sorry for my actions.”
She added that she hopes the children on her bus that day are not “scarred by” the incident.
Following the sentencing, Ms. Carter approached Ms. Juergens to let her know her faith has enabled her to work to find forgiveness and she handed her a book on the topic. She told a reporter her son has also been able to move past the incident, which she feels he might have been too young to fully understand the severity of. He saw her as simply “a bad driver,” his mother said.
Ms. Carter knew Ms. Juergens would be sentenced to community service prior to speaking in court, but still wanted to give voice to those impacted by drunken driving incidents.
At an arraignment last August, a prosecutor told Judge 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 attendees she was supposed to drive home that afternoon. 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 tried to make her way back to camp to pick up the additional campers. The prosecutor said that while the driver of the truck stopped, Ms. Juergens did not as she again passed the other stop at the camp.
At a press conference following last year’s arraignment, former 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. She also had an empty beer bottle near her seat on the bus, a prosecutor said.
No children were injured in the incident and Ms. Juergens’ employment with the bus company, First Student Inc., was terminated the following day.
“This was something that never should have happened,” Judge Braslow said Tuesday. “Thank God no one was hurt.”