M/clear
30°
M/clear
Hi 52° | Lo 31°

Bus Driver Had Previous DUI

School bus driver Carl Lupton, 57, of Bethel, Vt., pleaded innocent on April 1, 2014, to misdemeanor charges of drunk driving - second offense - and cruelty to children at the courthouse in downtown White River Junction. (Eric Francis photograph)

School bus driver Carl Lupton, 57, of Bethel, Vt., pleaded innocent on April 1, 2014, to misdemeanor charges of drunk driving - second offense - and cruelty to children at the courthouse in downtown White River Junction. (Eric Francis photograph)

White River Junction — The Butler’s Bus Service driver who has been charged with operating a bus full of schoolchildren while having a blood alcohol level above the legal limit had a prior DUI conviction in 2006, and Butler’s knew about it when he was hired.

Carl H. Lupton, 57, of Bethel, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday in Windsor Superior Court to a charge of driving under the influence and a misdemeanor charge of child cruelty — placing children under the age of 10 in danger.

Both charges carry a maximum penalty of two years in prison. Lupton did not have to post bail. It’s the second such charge against one of the company’s drivers in the past five months.

Lupton told police he had consumed about one box of wine on the evening of March 23 between 1 and 8 p.m., according to a police affidavit. A box of wine typically contains the equivalent of about five bottles.

In an interview on Tuesday, Lupton said he drank on Sunday night, went to bed and thought that after a full night’s sleep, there wouldn’t be any alcohol lingering in his blood.

The legal limit for operating a school bus is a blood alcohol content of .02. Lupton’s was measured at .04 the morning he was arrested.

Lupton said he did not and would never drink in the morning before driving a school bus .

“Honestly, I don’t feel that I did anything wrong because I felt a night of sleep would exonerate any alcohol in my blood stream,” Lupton said.

Including his most recent charge, Lupton has been arrested on DUI charges five times, but he only has one DUI conviction on his record.

Emo Chynoweth, vice president of Butler’s Bus Service, said Lupton told the company about his 2006 DUI conviction before he was hired. Chynoweth said he wasn’t aware of the prior DUI arrests .

Butler’s Bus Service conducts background checks before it hires drivers, Chynoweth said, including a check of the driver’s department of motor vehicle record and fingerprinting and a criminal background check.

Chynoweth wasn’t sure how many years back the criminal background check extends, but thought it was about seven years. Driver’s must also obtain a commercial driver’s license and school bus driver’s license.

“Everybody deserves a second chance, and it was eight years ago ... the state of Vermont gave him his (commercial driver’s license) and he passed all those state of Vermont required tests,” Chynoweth said.

Lupton also was charged with DUI in 2005, 2003 and 2000, but he was never convicted. In one case, the charge was dismissed, another time the charge was amended and he was convicted of reckless or gross negligent operation of a vehicle, while a third charge was amended and he was convicted of careless or negligent vehicle operation.

On March 24, after picking up students and dropping them off at South Royalton School, Lupton went inside to report a fight that occurred on his bus. That was when a teacher smelled alcohol on his breath, according to court documents.

The teacher who spoke to Lupton filed a written statement with police that said she smelled a strong odor of alcohol. When the teacher and Lupton parted ways, she approached superintendent David Bickford in the hall, and Bickford told the teacher to notify Butler’s Bus Service.

Once notified, a manager at Butler’s Bus Service asked Lupton to come back to the White River Junction location, where a breathalyzer was administered by an independent contractor who also conducts random drug-screening for the company.

Lupton registered a 0.04 percent blood alcohol content with the contractor, which is twice the legal limit for school bus drivers.

He was fired on the spot, Chynoweth said.

The Hartford Police Department was then called, and Lupton registered a 0.06 percent at 9:50 a.m. using a hand held breathalyzer, and then a 0.04 percent at 11 a.m. when he provided two additional breath samples at the police station.

“I don’t feel guilty about what I did because I don’t feel that I was doing a crime,” Lupton said. “But I feel really badly that I let some of the students and their parents down because the rumors have made me into a monster. I don’t think I’m a monster.”

Chynoweth said his company conducts random drug testing on 50 percent of employees and random alcohol tests on 10 percent of employees annually.

This is the second time a Butler’s Bus Service driver has been charged with a DUI in five months.

Kent Quillia, 59, of Hartford, was charged with a DUI in October. In February, he pleaded guilty to gross negligent operation of a vehicle and reckless endangerment. The DUI charge was dropped.

Bickford, superintendent for the Orange Windsor Supervisory Union, said the SAU has contracted with Butler’s Bus Service for four years. Bickford said he expects the SAU board will have a discussion about the use of Butler’s Bus Service at upcoming meetings, but he couldn’t say whether the district would consider alternatives.

“We will certainly take into consideration the public scrutiny that we’ve gotten,” Bickford said. “We’ll certainly take into consideration the safety and well-being of our students. We’ll certainly take into consideration the reliability of the service we have received. We’ll also take into consideration the overall cost, as well.”

Alice Thomason Worth, the superintendent of Windsor Central Supervisory Union, which also employs Butler’s Bus Service, said her schools have had “good luck” with the company.

The only issue she could recall was with a bus driver who was not responding well to students’ behaviors on the bus, and Thomason Worth said the bus service listened to her concerns and removed the bus driver from the route.

“I’d be curious in knowing how that person got through their background check and got hired,” Thomason Worth said. “As a superintendent I would be worried about whether there are some holes in the process. Sadly we can’t control everybody’s private behavior, but when they’re working with our kids, I don’t think we can have a high enough standard.”

Chynoweth said Butler’s Bus Service is reviewing its hiring process.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.