SOMERS, N.Y. – A Somers man who was drunk when he drove a school bus carrying dozens of students last year has pleaded guilty to felony DWI charges.
William Mendez, 62, was an employee of Royal Coach Lines last year when he was transporting children home from the Somers Intermediate School.
Mendez appeared via Skype in Westchester County Court on Tuesday, Sept. 22, before Judge Melissa Loehr where he was arraigned and pleaded guilty to aggravated DWI, a Class E felony.
Westchester County District Attorney Anthony A. Scarpino said Mendez was released on his own recognizance. He will be formally sentenced on Sept. 20, 2021.
According to court records, Mendez was placed on interim probation for one year, during which time he must check in with a probation officer every three months and wear an ankle bracelet that monitors blood alcohol.
If he should violate the terms of his interim probation, he could be sent to jail for two months, court records said.
In the end, Mendez is expected to serve five years’ probation.
He was also fined $1,500, plus a $325 surcharge and $50 to cover the costs of a DNA test and a $195 DWI “fee.”
Assistant District Attorney Michael D’Addario, Chief of the Pleadings Bureau in the Superior Court Trial Division, is prosecuting the case.
The Somers Record reached out to Mendez’s attorney, Howard Tanner, for comment. It had not heard back as of press time Tuesday.
It was unable to reach Mendez by phone Tuesday.
The newspaper was also seeking an official statement from Royal Coach Lines.
Several parents of children affected by the so-called “Bus P” incident told the newspaper that they weren’t satisfied with the way things went in court Tuesday.
Christopher DiPasquale, whose then-10-year-old son was so traumatized by the experience that he refused to sleep in his own bed for weeks, was furious.
“In my opinion, he got off scot-free,” said DiPasquale.
Here is DiPasquale’s statement, verbatim:
“Will Mendez is guilty. The parents whose children were on Bus P did not need to hear his lawyer say this in court, we did not need a judge to confirm this. We knew he was guilty the moment we picked up our terrified children that night last December. We knew he was guilty before we found out he was driving our precious cargo with a BAC that could kill someone. Our children have lived with his guilt probably more than he has. He did not go to jail, he did not lose his NYPD pension or his mansion in Somers. His guilt means more to the children who lost their innocence, their trust of adults, and their loss of a world without harm. Will Mendez is not only guilty of driving our children drunk, he is guilty of theft. He stole not an object. He stole something our children and their parents can never replace. He could have taken their lives, thankfully he did not. Instead he took a piece of their childhood away and replaced it with trauma. For that Will Mendez should pay.”
DiPasquale also wondered what “lesson” Mendez had taken away from the incident.
“He never made a public statement. He’s never even said he’s sorry. He should have manned up and said ‘I have a problem’,” DiPasquale said, adding: “The person who should suffer the most, has suffered the least in this episode.”
Parent Thomasine Mastrantoni said Tuesday that she was “thankful that someone has held him (Mendez) accountable. The school district didn’t; the bus company didn’t. Finally, the justice system did.”
Mastrantoni said she had obtained Mendez’s personnel records through a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request.
She said Tuesday that it cites several violations and two previous accidents involving Mendez in the two years prior to the Dec. 9 incident.
“The school district turned a blind eye to each violation and failed our children by allowing this man to continue to drive – even after presenting this clear pattern of reckless behavior. The bus company failed our children in brushing his numerous infractions under the table and not investigating further to understand and rectify this pattern,” Mastrantoni charged in a statement sent to The Somers Record.
“I still don’t feel that’s enough for what he did to our kids; but it’s a start,” she said later, referring to Mendez’s probation and fine.
The incident, which shook up parents and the rest of the school community, resulted an administrative shifts in the school’s district’s transportation office and major policy and procedural changes.
Royal Coach Lines eventually replaced the manager, dispatcher, and safety officer at its Somers terminal.
Some of the 44 youngsters aboard the bus on Dec. 9 had called their parents to report that Mendez was acting oddly, skipping stops, and driving erratically.
Parents contacted the district, which radioed Mendez to stop immediately in a safe place. According to school officials, he did not comply.
About seven minutes later, Mendez’s bus was met by Joe Bernardi, then the district’s transportation director, and two Royal Coach Line employees.
(Bernardi, who was also the school district’s chief safety officer, was later put on administrative leave while the district conducted in investigation. He resigned in late January.)
State police said the children were determined to have been safe and Mendez was taken back to the bus garage by the Royal Coach terminal manager. A replacement driver then finished the route.
A state trooper met Mendez and the manager at the garage and an ambulance was called.
Mendez, who school officials said had claimed to be having a medical issue, was taken to Northern Westchester Hospital.
Subsequent testing found that Mendez had had a blood alcohol content of 0.22 percent, nearly three times the legal limit, police said.
He was arrested and charged nine days later with aggravated DWI, a class E felony under Leandra’s Law, or the Child Passenger Protection Act. It imposes special sanctions on anyone convicted of endangering the life of a passenger under age 16.
The district reacted by launching an internal investigation, calling in safety consultants, and forming a task force to go over its transportation policies and procedures.
It concluded that at least three mistakes had been made on that day, namely: that 911 should have been called; that Mendez should not have been removed from the original scene until evaluated by police or EMS crews; and a formal parent-child reunification process should have taken place.
At one point the Board of Education considered the possible termination of the district’s contract with Royal Coach, but decided to stick it out after the company vowed to make changes.
Many bus drivers, monitors, and colleagues of Bernardi’s stormed school board meetings to defend him and his 15-year record, which they said was unblemished.
Parents, and others, however just as vehemently argued that someone had to be held responsible for the incident.