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School Bus Driver Pleads Guilty

Kent Quillia, right, sits with his attorney Chris Dall, left, in Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction, Vt., before entering a guilty plea for of driving under the influence and negligent operation Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014.
(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Kent Quillia, right, sits with his attorney Chris Dall, left, in Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction, Vt., before entering a guilty plea for of driving under the influence and negligent operation Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

White River Junction — A former bus driver pleaded guilty Wednesday to gross negligent operation of a vehicle and reckless endangerment charges stemming from an incident last fall in which prosecutors allege he drove a school bus of students after drinking alcohol.

As part of a plea deal, prosecutors dropped a third charge, driving under the influence, against 59-year-old Kent Quillia, of Hartford. Under his sentence, Quillia is prohibited from drinking alcohol or driving a commercial vehicle for two years and will serve 30 days on a work crew.

Prosecutor Glenn Barnes said that the “majority of evidence” that Quillia had breached the legal limit for a bus driver’s blood alcohol content would likely be inadmissible in court because a test was conducted by a technician on behalf of Quillia’s former employer and not by law enforcement officials.

Butler’s Bus Service fired Quillia when a test showed his blood alcohol level was 0.19 shortly after driving students from Hartford to Bethel on Sept. 20. The legal limit for a school bus driver is 0.02.

A paraeducator aboard the bus had alerted officials that Quillia had been driving erratically, including clipping a traffic sign.

Judge Karen R. Carroll told Quillia that his efforts to seek treatment for alcohol abuse immediately after his citation, including checking into a five-day alcohol detox treatment at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and enrolling in a program at Clara Martin Center, weighed heavily in her accepting the plea deal.

Another contributing factor was Quillia’s lack of prior criminal record, Carroll said.

“You have not even a motor vehicle record ... which leads me to believe that you are a person who has for your life made pretty good decisions, has been law-abiding, which can only point me in the direction of realizing that you have a major alcohol problem in order to do something like this,” Carroll told Quillia.

She then asked whether Quillia felt like the actions he was taking were helping him to control the problem.

“I am,” he responded. “I don’t drink at all, and I have no desire to.”

Carroll also noted that the media attention on Quillia’s case has served as additional punishment, with which Quillia agreed.

“I’ve lived here 35 years, so everybody knows,” he said.

In court, Dall said Quillia “knew that he had a problem” after he received the citation.

“He’s taken basically the most severe course of treatment that he can take,” short of a 28-day in-care facility, Dall said.

Quillia and Dall both declined to comment following the hearing.

Indeed, Barnes said prosecutors also found that while “the facts and allegations are serious, (Quillia) responded in a very serious manner,” making the plea deal appropriate.

If convicted on all counts, Quillia would have faced up to five years in prison.

Barnes said in court that the two-year probation period in which Quillia cannot drive a commercial vehicle was considered a “key component” by Butler’s Bus Service.

Reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, Carla Benson, the facility manager at Butler’s Hartford facility, declined to comment.

According to police affidavits, a paraeducator on Quillia’s bus route from the Hartford Autism Regional Program in Hartford to Whitcomb High School in Bethel became alarmed when Quillia clipped a traffic sign without stopping and drifted out of his lane on Interstate 89. As they were driving in downtown Bethel, a student passenger started acting loudly, and the paraeducator, John Potter, said Quillia took both hands fully off the steering wheel to mimick the student.

When the bus arrived at the high school, Potter alerted a supervisor, who called Butler’s Bus Service, according to Potter’s statement.

By that time, Quillia was driving the bus to South Royalton High School to pick up a soccer team and take them to Randolph. Benson sent two employees to Randolph, where they interceded and drove Quillia back to Butler’s Bus facility in Hartford, where the blood alcohol test was administered.

When Quillia was relieved in Randolph and driven back to Hartford, another employee found two Mountain Dew soda bottles and brought them back to Benson, according to affidavits.

One of the 20-ounce bottles was empty, while the other bottle had less than an ounce of dark liquid remaining. The bottles smelled like intoxicants, according to a report by Cpl. John Zonay, who led a Department of Motor Vehicles investigation.

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.