Bus Driver Charged With DUI
Private attorney Chris Dall, right, speaks for Kent Quillia of Hartford, left, during his arraignment in Windsor District Court in White River Junction Tuesday, November 5, 2013. Quillia faces charges that he was intoxicated while driving a school bus for Butler's Bus Service in September. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
White River Junction — A 59-year-old bus driver pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to charges of driving a school bus with children aboard while intoxicated.
Kent Quillia, of Hartford, pleaded not guilty to driving under the influence, reckless or gross negligent vehicle operation and reckless endangerment — all misdemeanors — in Windsor Superior Court. If convicted on all three charges, Quillia could face a maximum of five years in prison.
Quillia was fired Sept. 20 when he was observed to be driving the bus erratically between Hartford and Bethel, according to Butler’s Bus Service, the company that employed him. A caller contacted the bus company, which dispatched another driver to take over Quillia’s route while he was driven back to the company’s offices in Hartford and a blood alcohol test was administered.
The test showed Quillia’s blood alcohol level was slightly above 0.19. The legal limit for a school bus driver is 0.02.
According to court documents, two Mountain Dew soda bottles were found on the bus, both of which were sent to the state Forensic Laboratory. Tests showed that one bottle contained a liquid that measured 30.4 percent alcohol.
Quillia appeared in court on Tuesday wearing blue jeans and a gray jacket. He kept his hands folded behind his back and didn’t speak during the hearing. Chris Dall, his attorney, said during the proceeding that there was no evidentiary blood alcohol test done by law enforcement.
The alcohol screening test was conducted by a technician from Appropriate Choice Testing of Meriden, N.H., who went to Butler’s Hartford facility and took an alcohol sample from Quillia
In a statement provided to the Department of Motor Vehicles, the technician said that Quillia’s 0.19 BAC level would need to be verified by an evidentiary breath test. The technician said that he recommended Quillia be taken to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center to confirm the results, but Quillia declined.
Carla Benson, the facility manager at Butler’s Hartford facility, said last week that Quillia was fired immediately. She offered to provide Quillia with a ride home because he was impaired, but he refused, according to a statement Benson provided to the DMV. After he walked out the door, Benson called Hartford police to inform them that Quillia was impaired and had chosen to drive himself home.
In an interview Tuesday, Hartford Deputy Police Chief Brad Vail said the investigation into the incident was principally conducted by the Department of Motor Vehicles. Hartford Police could have arrested Quillia if they found him driving his own vehicle while he was intoxicated, but Vail said that police weren’t notified in time to apprehend him.
DMV Capt. Jake Elovirta said in a phone interview on Tuesday that the DMV was unable to conduct its own blood alcohol test because the agency was contacted too late after the incident. Cpl. John Zonay, who led the DMV investigation didn’t get started on the assignment for a few days because he was off work at the time, Elovirta said.
Zonay gathered written statements, interviewed employees of Butler’s Bus Service and spoke with the Windsor County State’s Attorney Office.
When asked if the court could rely upon the blood alcohol test taken by the alcohol screening technician, Dall, the defense attorney, said the “state will probably try.”
Deputy Windsor County State’s Attorney Glenn Barnes declined to comment on the blood alochol testing issue.
“The state charged it as a DUI and the judge found probable cause. How it ends up, I can’t say,” Barnes said after the hearing.
The Sept. 20 incident came to light when John Potter, a paraeducator with the Windsor Northwest Supervisory Union and a passenger on the bus, became alarmed over Quillia’s driving while he was transporting students from the Hartford Autism Regional Program in Hartford to Whitcomb High School in Bethel, according to a statement Potter gave to the DMV.
After picking up students in Hartford, Quillia allegedly hit a one-way sign and stated, “Well, I guess I hit that sign,” and kept driving, according to Potter’s statement. While driving along Interstate 89, Potter allegedly witnessed Quillia cross the center line several times.
When Potter told Quillia that his driving was making him nervous, Quillia didn’t reply, according to Potter’s statement.
As they were driving in downtown Bethel, a student passenger started acting loudly, and Quillia allegedly mimicked the student’s behavior and took both his hands off the steering wheel and waved them in the air, according to Potter’s statements.
When the bus arrived at the high school, Potter pointed out Quillia’s erratic driving to his supervisor. The principal called Butler’s Bus Service to report on what Potter had witnessed, according to Potter’s statement.
By that time, Quillia was driving the bus to South Royalton High School to pick up the soccer team and bring them to Randolph. Benson sent two employees to Randolph, where they interceded and drove Quillia back to Butler’s Bus facility in Hartford.
Quillia declined to comment after Tuesday’s hearing.
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.
One of the 20 fluid ounce bottles was empty, while the other bottle had less than an ounce of dark liquid remaining. The bottles smelled like intoxicants, according to Zonay’s report.
According to court documents, Zonay submitted two sealed plastic evidence bags containing soda bottles and a sealed vial containing liquid recovered from one of the bottles to the Vermont Forensic Laboratory.
Quillia was not given a bail amount and was released with the condition that he cannot operate a commercial vehicle.
Sarah Brubeck can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3223.