Cops: Bus driver who hit house was DWI
The driver of a mini school bus that crashed into a house in Syosset has been charged with six felony and 11 misdemeanor counts -- after it was determined he was drunk when the crash occurred Wednesday, Nassau County police said.
Frederick Flowers, 66, of 478 Eastlake Ave. in Massapequa Park, faces five counts of aggravated driving while intoxicated under Leandra's Law, which makes it illegal to drive drunk with children under age 16 in the vehicle. He also faces charges of DWI while operating a school bus with student passengers, a felony, and five counts of second-degree reckless endangerment, five counts of endangering the welfare of a child and DWI -- all misdemeanors.
None of the five students on the bus, operated by First Student Inc., an industry giant, was injured in the crash.
Police said two of the students are 9 years old, while the others are 8, 6 and 5. None of the students was identified by police.
The bus had just left the driveway of St. Edward the Confessor School about 3 p.m. when it careened across a lawn and into the garage of a home on Teibrook Avenue in Syosset. The children are students at the parish school.
On Thursday, calls to the school were directed to the Diocese of Rockville Centre. The diocese spokesman, Sean Dolan, released a statement that read, in part: "We are grateful that none of our students was injured in this incident . . . At this time, we reiterate that St. Edward's school is committed to ensuring the safety and welfare of its students."
Deacon Jim Murphy, speaking Thursday morning on behalf of the school, said, "We're communicating with the parents as to the status of things and will keep them up to date."
Luisa Giannuzzi, 49, of Huntington, whose 7-year-old daughter is a student at the school but was not involved in the crash, told Newsday: "It's so scary. I'm shocked . . . It can happen at anytime. You never know."
A spokeswoman for First Student said Flowers has been a driver with the company since March 2009 and that he has a clean driving record.
In a statement to Newsday, spokeswoman Jennifer Biddinger said Flowers "passed all pre-employment screenings, which include drug and alcohol testing, as well as a background check." She said the company, the largest provider of school bus transportation in North America, also conducts random drug and alcohol screenings -- and department of motor vehicle background checks -- throughout the tenure of their drivers.
Biddinger could not immediately say when Flowers, who worked out of the Main Street, Freeport, location for First Student, last was tested by the company. But Biddinger said First Student was "conducting a full investigation" and was "assisting authorities with theirs." She said Flowers was suspended pending the outcome of those investigations.
First Student, based in Cincinnati, has 600 locations in 38 states and nine Canadian provinces and employs 61,000 people, about 40,000 of them bus drivers. Data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration shows just one alcohol-related incident involving a First Student driver within the last year -- and that occurred in Colorado in April.
Records indicate the violation involved use of alcohol within four hours of going on duty and it was found in a roadside test not related to a crash. The disposition of the case was not known Thursday.
"The safety and security of our students is our core value, and a responsibility we take very seriously," First Student said in the statement provided by Biddinger, who also told Newsday during a phone interview Thursday: "We have some of the toughest hiring standards in the industry."
Photographs of the scene show the bus embedded in the front of the garage, the rear resting on a piece of brickwork, its left rear wheels completely off the ground.
Flowers was airlifted from the scene to NUMC with what police called "non-life-threatening injuries." His condition was not known Thursday.
Hospital spokeswoman Shelley Lotenberg said Wednesday that Flowers was in serious but stable condition.
Police said Wednesday that only two family dogs were in the house when the bus smashed the garage.
"I was basically glad it wasn't in the main house," homeowner Dan Percell, a Verizon technician and Syosset firefighter, said Wednesday. "About a month ago, I had a thought in my mind about a car coming through my house and then this happens today. It was kind of freaky."
Late afternoon, Syosset and Bethpage firefighters set up a repair shop outside the home, cutting lumber and putting up metal uprights to shore up the house. The garage walls and items, including Percell's golf clubs, were damaged.
The family dogs were shaken, Percell said, but he said he tried to remain calm -- probably because he's seen cars in houses do a lot more damage. "Next month, I'll be in the fire department for 30 years," said Percell, 49. "I've seen a lot."
With William Murphy and Ellen Yan