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Bus driver pleads not guilty to OWI tickets

By Mike Heine/The Week

(Published March 7, 2007, 11:41 a.m.)

The ex bus driver suspected of driving 25 Phoenix Middle School wrestlers from East Troy to Delavan while drunk on Feb. 20 pleaded not guilty Wednesday to two alcohol-related offenses.

Connie R. Holden, 51, of 310 N. Fifth St., Delavan, was ticketed for operating while intoxicated and operating with a blood alcohol content over 0.08 percent. She faces a $1,000 fine and 18-month revocation of her regular driver's license if convicted.

She was fired from Lenon Bus Service on Feb. 22.

Holden declined to comment after a brief court conference with city prosecutor Elizabeth Olson other than to say, "All the kids are fine."

There were no injuries to any of the students or adults on the bus.

An anonymous caller reported to police that Holden might be drunk and driving the kids back to Delavan. The call came to the Delavan 911 dispatch center shortly before police spotted the bus in the middle school parking lot.

Holden was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving and failed field sobriety tests at the police station.

A blood draw revealed a blood alcohol content of 0.17, more than twice Wisconsin's legal limit for driving. Drivers cannot have any alcohol in their body when driving a commercial vehicle.

Holden stands to lose her bus driver's license for five years if convicted.

Police interviewed everyone on the bus and there was no evidence of reckless endangerment, Police Chief Tim O'Neill said. Holden will face no state charges, O'Neill added.

"The Walworth County district attorney decided nothing supports a criminal charge," O'Neill said.

Rob Christian, executive director of the Wisconsin School Bus Association, said a drunken school bus driver is almost unheard of.

"It's absolutely unacceptable," he said earlier, noting it was Wisconsin's Bus Driver Appreciation Week when Holden was arrested.

In his 26 years at the organization, Christian never remembers a Wisconsin bus driver being ticketed for drunken driving with students on board.

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