SOMERS, N.Y. - Somers schools transportation director Joe Bernardi has been placed on administrative leave in the wake of a DWI arrest of one of the district’s bus drivers.
Schools Superintendent Dr. Raymond Blanch made the announcement Monday, Dec. 23, in a letter to parents. Bernardi is also the district’s chief emergency officer.
The district is delving into the Dec. 9 incident aboard Bus P including “how it was managed, communicated, and where we could have done better.”
William J. Mendez, 61, of Somers was arrested on Wednesday, Dec. 18, and charged with Aggravated DWI and DWI, after children aboard his bus called parents to report that he was driving erratically. He had been taking students home from the Somers Intermediate School.
The former charge, a Class E felony, was brought 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’s attorneys are investigating the incident, “including what occurred leading up to, during and after the incident,” Blanch wrote, adding that Bernardi was placed on leave “out of an abundance of caution and no assumptions should be made based upon this action.”
The district has also asked its safety and security experts, Altaris Consulting, to review its “transportation policies, procedures and practices, and their implementation in relation to the incident.”
This will, Blanch said, involve “a review of records from both the district and Royal Coach.”
Mendez was an employee of Royal Coach Lines.
According to Blanch, this assessment “is already under way and will include the October 2018 accident in which the Bus P driver was involved.”
No details about that incident were available at press time.
According to New York State police, the district had been notified by a parent that Mendez was “acting strange.”
Bernardi called Royal Coach Lines’ Somers dispatch to have the driver cease operations and then drove to the bus’ location, according to state police.
Mendez was relieved of his duties and taken to the hospital for evaluation. The Westchester County District Attorney’s Office got a search warrant and obtained a sample of Mendez’s blood.
Tests showed that his blood alcohol content was 0.22 percent, police said. Leandra’s Law set the BAC at 0.08 percent.
Mendez was arraigned before Judge Denis Timone in Somers Town Court and released on his own recognizance, police said. He is scheduled to be back in court on Monday, Jan. 6.
Blanch told parents that “the district places paramount importance on your children’s safety, health and well-being.”
“As such, we are conducting these reviews with a critical eye to determine what needs to improve and what the district can do to avoid any similar incidents.”