School bus driver charged with impaired driving

James Sommer, 47, of Massapequa, is led out

James Sommer, 47, of Massapequa, is led out of Third Precinct in Bay Shore for arraignment in Central Islip Criminal Court. (Oct. 23, 2012) (Credit: James Carbone)

A school bus driver was arraigned Tuesday on a misdemeanor charge of driving a commercial vehicle while ability impaired after police said he crashed a bus from the Plainedge school district during a field trip, injuring a 12-year-old passenger.

James Sommer, 47, of Massapequa, was released Tuesday afternoon after pleading not guilty and posting bail, police said.

He was arrested Monday morning after police said he backed a bus carrying middle school students "into a tree limb" on West Main Street in Cold Spring Harbor.

His arraignment on an unspecified misdemeanor came as prosecutors awaited blood test results from the crash.

"It's our position and belief that once those blood results come back that he will be exonerated," said Sommer's attorney, George Duncan.

Sommer is a family man who has never been arrested before, said Duncan, of Central Islip.

He initially faced a felony charge based on investigations by the district attorney's office and police department. Then, the charge was reduced to a misdemeanor pending the results of a blood test, said Suffolk Det. Sgt. Richard Auspaker.

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.

When asked about an open bottle of bourbon police said they found in Sommer's bus, Duncan responded: "They said they found a bottle, they didn't say where they found a bottle. We need to determine that."

Court documents, which Duncan said he had not reviewed Tuesday, state that an open bottle of bourbon was found in Sommer's bag in the 2001 International Harvester school bus he was operating with 29 children on board.

Sommer's arrest follows two unrelated incidents this month on Long Island where school bus drivers were charged with drunken driving.

Suffolk police said Sommer tried to park the bus, carrying the Plainedge Middle School seventh-graders and a teacher, at the DNA Learning Center at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory when the bus hit the tree.

A girl from the bus was taken to Huntington Hospital after the 10:15 a.m. crash at 334 W. Main St., police said.

"Upon interviewing the defendant, it was observed that the defendant breath smelled strongly of an alcoholic beverage and his eyes were bloodshot and glassy," according to court documents. "The defendant failed one-legged-stand field sobriety test."

Plainedge schools Superintendent Edward Salina said in a statement Monday, "The district is fully cooperating with the local authorities. The district will take appropriate action based on the outcome of an investigation."

With Bill Mason, Patricia Kitchen and Ann Givens

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