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Another bus driver for district arrested

| Saturday, Nov. 3, 2001, 12:00 p.m.

The arrest of two school bus drivers in less than 10 days has Pittsburgh Public Schools officials pledging to be more vigilant in ensuring that bus companies check out their employees' backgrounds.

Taleeta Denise Brown, 28, of Homestead, was arrested Thursday by Pennsylvania State Police. She had been wanted on an arrest warrant on a charge of theft of leased property.

Brown is a driver for A-1 Van Service in the Strip District. A-1 Van Service is one of 17 companies that contract with the school district to transport students.

Brown's arrest - occurring nine days after a driver for another bus company was arrested on drug charges - has district officials discussing how to better monitor the people responsible for driving children to and from schools. But on the whole, the system has few problems, say district and bus company officials.

"Two things really concern me: One is having a background check, and the other is having an arrest for a serious crime like drugs," district spokeswoman Pat Crawford said.

Brown was arrested following a routine, school-bus safety inspection conducted monthly.

Two other A-1 Van Service drivers were cited: Kenneth George Stubbs, 53, of the North Side, for driving with a suspended license; and Dominic Bergamasco Jr., 54, of Penn Hills, for driving without a school bus endorsement on his driver's license.

On Oct. 23, state police arrested Sandra Hall, 32, of Wilkinsburg, after they learned she had arrest warrants on charges of simple assault and making terroristic threats. Police said that when they searched Hall, they found what they suspect was marijuana. Hall works for B-Tranz Transportation Co. in Homewood, another carrier used by the city schools.

Ted Vasser, the district's director of transportation, said he plans to talk to his staff about steps they can take to ensure that drivers have no criminal records. The three A-1 Van Service drivers had clean records, he said.

Under state law, school bus drivers must submit to criminal background checks, although having been convicted of a crime does not necessarily disqualify someone from driving. People who have committed aggravated assault, sexual assault, drug-related felonies and child abuse, among others, cannot drive a school bus.

The three A-1 Van Service drivers have been suspended, the company said.

Stubbs faces a $1,000 fine and the loss of all driving privileges for up to a year. Bergamasco could have to pay a $500 fine and be disqualified from driving a bus for six months, according to PennDOT.

State police said Brown was taken to the Allegheny County Jail, although jail officials said they have no record of her arrest.

A-1 Van Service Terminal Manager Ted Ickes said Stubbs never received an application to renew his license because he forgot to let PennDOT know that he had moved.

Bergamasco was awaiting completion of paperwork necessary to qualify for a school bus endorsement, Ickes said. Brown's arrest was not related to her job as a bus driver, he said.

Ickes said A-1 Van Service performs background checks annually on its drivers but now will conduct them every six months. The company has about 75 buses.

Pittsburgh Public Schools has used the company for years and will continue to do so, Vasser said.

Vasser said the district routinely asks each bus company to provide a list of its drivers and verification that they passed background checks. Because of the driver shortage, Vasser had asked each company for a fresh list of drivers; the information is expected later this month.

"There's been a number of cuts in personnel in every department in the school district over the last several years, and there have been severe cuts in the transportation department," school board member Randall Taylor said.

Taylor said he will propose that the district hire two investigators to keep tabs on bus companies and their drivers. He estimated it would cost about $120,000.

"These parents are putting their children in our hands, and from the time they walk out their door to go to school and get on a bus and be brought home, they should be kept safe," board member Darlene Harris said.

The state police conduct random school-bus vehicle and driver-safety checks monthly during the school year.

A-1 Van Service frequently has been cited for equipment violations, including bald tires, no fire extinguishers and lights that don't work, said state police Cpl. Z. Jendrzejewski.

Ickes said A-1 Van Service has been cited only for minor violations that were corrected quickly.

"The state police were doing their job. We pat them on the back for that," he said.

B-Tranz Transportation is another frequent offender, Jendrezjewski said. Company officials declined comment.

"You'd think the school district would not want to contract with them," Jendrezjewski said.

Vasser said state police do not provide the district with information about safety violations unless they are severe. Because of the problems with the A-1 Van Service drivers, Vasser said he has sent Jendrezjewski a letter asking that the district always be informed of inspection results.

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