A school bus driver was arrested and charged with driving while ability impaired Monday after police said he crashed a bus from the Plainedge school district during a field trip in Cold Spring Harbor, injuring a 12-year-old passenger, police said.
His arrest follows two unrelated incidents this month on Long Island in which school bus drivers were charged with drunken driving.
In this incident, James Sommer, 47, of Massapequa, tried to park the bus, carrying 29 Plainedge Middle School seventh-graders and a teacher, at the DNA Learning Center at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and "backed into a tree limb," Suffolk County police said in a news release.
A girl from the bus was taken to Huntington Hospital with minor injuries following the 10:15 a.m. accident at 334 W. Main St., police said.
Robert Clifford, a spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota, said the arrest papers noted: "the police officer observed the defendant's breath smelling strongly of an alcoholic beverage and his eyes were bloodshot and glassy." The police also found an open bottle of bourbon in the bus, Clifford said.
Plainedge schools Superintendent Edward Salina, said in a prepared statement, "The district is fully cooperating with the local authorities. The district will take appropriate action based on the outcome of an investigation."
Suffolk County police initially said in a news release that Sommer was charged with aggravated driving while intoxicated with a child passenger 15 years old or younger (Leandra's Law), driving while intoxicated wile operating a school bus with students on board and endangering the welfare of a child.
That was amended Monday evening after the district attorney's office reduced the charges to one count of the lesser charge of driving while ability impaired.
Clifford said, "After reviewing the evidence, the decision was to charge the defendant with a misdemeanor, pending the results of the blood test." Suffolk Det. Sgt. Richard Auspaker said the initial charges were based on the police officers' observations at the scene. A blood sample was taken from Sommer at the Second Precinct for analysis by the county medical examiner, Auspaker said.
Driving a private vehicle with an alcohol reading of .08 percent is driving while intoxicated, Auspaker said. For a commercial vehicle, such as a school bus, the legal level that denotes intoxicated is lower, .06 percent.
Driving a private vehicle at .06 percent is considered impaired, he said, but .04 percent is the level for impaired driving of a commercial vehicle.
Blood alcohol analysis is usually completed within a few days, Clifford said.
Sommer was to be held overnight at the Second Precinct for arraignment Tuesday at First District Court in Central Islip.
With Ann Givens