By Miranda Holloway
A District 57 bus driver was arrested and charged with DUI on the job after she drove approximately 50 Lions Park Elementary School students home at the end of the day.
On March 9, 54-year-old Betty Burden was pulled over and asked to perform a number of sobriety tests. Burden’s blood alcohol level was measured at about three times over the legal limit, her blood level was 0.226, in comparison to the legal level of .08. She later admitted to drinking a strong combination of vodka and orange juice with her lunch.
Burden has been suspended without pay and will be eligible for termination at the next Board of Education meeting. School board President Joe Leane made the feelings of the board about the incident very clear at the emergency board meeting on Monday 15.
“It is clear to us that our trust has been betrayed.” Leane said. “We offer our deepest apologies to the families affected by this incident.”
Originally it was thought that this was an isolated incident, and that all safety measures were taken as soon as information became known. As the board’s investigation continued however, that was clearly not the case.
On Monday, March 8, the day previous to the arrest, it has been confirmed that one of Burden’s co-workers reported smelling alcohol on her breath and informed the district’s transportation coordination Vincente Ramirez of her suspicions.
Ramirez was unable to confirm if she was intoxicated, and let her continue with her routes dropping off Westbrook School for Young Learners, Lions Elementary School, and Lincoln Middle School students. According to statements made at the meeting by Leane, Ramirez worried that he would have a problem with workplace harassment if he took anymore actions with the situation.
The next day a similar report was given to Ramirez, but from a different employee. This time however Ramirez intercepted the bus, and eventually boarded to speak with Burden. Again, Ramirez could not tell if she was drunk, so he got off and followed behind in his car.
At the end of her route, Ramirez contacted the police who then performed the entire series of sobriety test. Burden failed all of them.
Since the incident Ramirez has been suspended from his job and it is unclear if he will return. This appears to a response to the large number of outraged parents that spoke at the emergency board meeting.
Nadia Northrupp, mother of three, said, “Employment harassment laws should not come before children’s safety.”
Many of the parents are asked the question of how someone so drunk could go unnoticed, or how the coordinator could have not taken over the bus route when there was suspicion of a drunk driver.
Kevin Brannigan, who had a child on the bus during the incident said, “My biggest concern is how somebody at three times the legal limit could get by everybody.”