Bus driver suspended, investigation continues

LIHUE — Last week’s incident involving a 74-year-old Kapaa resident operating a school bus under the influence was a first for Complex Area Superintendent Bill Arakaki. KPD reported Koth was not under the influence of alcohol.

“This is the first incident of this nature … regarding a driver being arrested for OVUII (operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant),” he wrote in an email.

Lawrence Koth was en route to Kapaa Middle School Thursday morning when citizens reported the bus was swerving on the roadway, according to the Kauai Police Department.

When KPD officers initiated a traffic stop, the man side-swiped a parked boat and trailer. Koth failed an initial sobriety test while on scene and was subsequently charged with the crime. He was later released from custody after posting $250 bail.

“Koth’s test results have not yet been received by KPD,” county spokeswoman Sarah Blane wrote in an email Monday. “However, results of those tests will not be made publicly available until the conclusion of the investigation, and the case remains ongoing at this time.”

Aboard the bus at the time of the incident were a sixth-grader, two seventh-graders and one eighth-grader from KMS, according to Dara Young, communications specialist for the Hawaii Department of Education.

“This was a regular, general-education route,” she said. “There were four students on the bus at the time as it was early in the route. It was at the fourth stop of an 11-stop route.”

No injuries were reported by Koth or the students, and DOE officials were able to notify the students’ parents and have them all safely transported to school.

The incident brought up questions about the requirements and qualifications necessary to work as a school bus driver.

Young said school bus drivers are employees of their respective companies — in this case Akita Enterprises of Lihue — and not the DOE.

“However, all drivers are subject to the DOE employee background check program upon application for employment,” she wrote. “The DOE check is a one-time check unless there is an incident involving the driver.”

In addition, drivers are subject to Department of Transportation commercial driver’s license requirements, which include annual criminal background and traffic record checks, according to Young.

In an email Friday, Wendy Akita, president of Akita Enterprises, outlined how her company screens employees, as well as the qualifications for employment.

Akita said drivers must be free of felony convictions, adhere to the strict federal and state DOT and DOE standards, and be able to read, write and communicate effectively with DOE and company personnel, as well as the students they transport.

“Criminal clearance and fingerprinting is done by DOE,” she wrote. “When a driver gets their first license — CDL and non-CDL — they are fingerprinted by the local police  department. Every two years, each driver must pass a PUC physical mandated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.”

In addition, each Akita Enterprise driver must pass a pre-employment drug test, and is subject to random drug and alcohol testing, according to Akita.

“Annually, every driver must pass criminal clearance, provide a current driver history report, traffic abstract and attend driver improvement training,” she said. “All drivers and aides must be first aide and CPR certified annually.”

Akita Enterprises currently employs 41 school bus and van drivers on Kauai, along with a pair of supervisors — one on the Westside and one on the Eastside — according to Akita.

The DOE also has contracts with Roberts Hawaii and Yamaguchi Bus Service, according to Young.

“Mr. Koth has been placed on indefinite suspension while further investigation occurs,” Akita wrote.

Koth is expected to appear in court Sept. 18.

• Chris D’Angelo, environment writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or cdangelo@thegardenisland.com.


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