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Plainedge School Bus Driver Arrested

Charged with DWIA after bus has accident with 29 seventh-graders aboard; Deputy Supt. speaks about safety protocols in Massapequa

For the second time in less than a month, a resident of the Massapequas has been arrested for allegedly driving a school bus with students on board, while also being under the influence of alcohol. James Sommer, 47, of Massapequa was arrested by Suffolk County Police, and charged with allegedly driving while his ability was impaired. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

According to Suffolk County Police, Sommer was driving a school bus with 29 Plainedge Middle School seventh-graders on board, when he attempted to park the bus and backed into a tree limb. The Plainedge School District released a statement from Superintendent Edward Salina, stating the teacher chaperoning the trip notified the building principal of the incident and local police were contacted. The statement from the district further explained that the principal, the district transportation supervisor, and the assistant to the superintendent for facilities and special projects arrived to assess the situation and ensure the students’ safety. According to the police, one of the students was taken to Huntington Hospital with minor injuries.

In the statement from Salina, he said that the district is fully cooperating with local authorities and will take appropriate action based on the outcome of an investigation. A spokesperson later told the Massapequan Observer that the current transportation policies and procedures are under review as the safety and security of students and staff is paramount. That spokesperson also stated that the Plainedge School District has its own fleet of buses and that the drivers are district employees. Some school districts, such as Massapequa, hire bus companies to transport district students. As of press time, an update was not available regarding the employment status of the driver that was arrested.

The arrest comes soon after a Massapequa Park man, Frederick Flowers, 66, was also arrested and charged by Nassau County Police with five counts of endangering the welfare of a child, fives counts of reckless endangerment and two counts of driving while intoxicated. According to Nassau County Police, Flowers was operating a school bus in Syosset when the vehicle left the roadway and struck a residence.

Although both of the drivers arrested were from the Massapequas, neither one is an employee of the Massapequa School District. Alan Adcock, the deputy superintendent of the Massapequa Public Schools, spoke with the Massapequan Observer about the protocols that are in place to ensure the safety of Massapequa students when they are being transported.

“It’s unconscionable that anyone would operate a school bus in a state of intoxication,” commented Adcock.

Adcock said that Massapequa does not hire its own fleet of drivers, and instead contracts out for transportation, primarily using Educational Bus Transportation and Atlantic Express, as well as Acme Bus Company. Adcock says that the district checks the hiring protocols of the companies that are used, and that any bus drivers hired by the district’s contractors are subjected to drug and alcohol testing before being hired. In addition, Adcock also said that each of the companies randomly checks its employees after the initial hiring process.

“The safety and security of our students is of primary importance,” he said.

In addition, Adcock says that the contracted companies also employ safety officers who do random checks of the routes to check on how the driver is performing. Furthermore, Adcock said that Keyana Wright, transportation director for the Massapequa School District, also randomly goes out and follows school buses to make sure that the buses are being driven in a safe manner.