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Bus driver pleads guilty in drunken driving case

Driver had been transporting students

By Mike Heine/The Week

(Published March 18, 2007, 4:18 p.m.)

A bus driver who took 25 Phoenix Middle School wrestlers from East Troy back to Delavan on Feb. 20 pleaded guilty Wednesday to a municipal drunk driving charge.

Connie R. Holden, 51, of 310 N. Fifth St., Delavan, will be fined $1,000 and have her regular driver's license suspended for 18 months, said city prosecutor Elizabeth Olson.

The penalties doubled because Holden had children on board, Olson said.

She will also lose her bus driver's license endorsement for five years.

Holden, who was fired by Lenon Bus Service two days after the incident, had a blood alcohol level of 0.17 percent shortly after she was arrested, more than twice the legal limit for driving a regular vehicle.

Commercial driver's licenses require absolute sobriety, Police Chief Tim O'Neill said.

Olson said she had never had a drunk driving case so egregious in her year as city attorney.

"As far as the level of alcohol in her blood, I've seen higher levels, but the circumstances of driving a school bus full of children, no, not since I've been a city prosecutor," she said. "I have never been in a situation where I imposed the maximum (penalty) or doubled fines. This is the first instance where this has happened."

Police interviewed everyone on the bus to make sure there were no further violations of law, such as reckless driving, O'Neill said. There was no evidence for the District Attorney's Office to pursue state charges, O'Neill said.

"We certainly feel that our case pointed to the fact that all of the field sobriety tests, as well as both breath and blood tests, pointed to the fact that she was several times over the legal limit and in violation of the absolute sobriety clause as well," O'Neill said. "I'm glad she (reached a plea). Hopefully through the court system she can get some treatment options."

Holden will have to undergo drug and alcohol counseling through the county's Health and Human Services Department, Olson said.

Holden did not answer her home phone when called by The Week seeking comment Thursday morning.

Olson said Holden has taken responsibility for her actions.

"She didn't wish to fight the citations or charges against her and basically wanted to take responsibility for what she has done, comply with her sentence and do what was necessary to resolve the issue," Olson said.

Delavan-Darien School District Superintendent Jim Sorensen said police and the bus company handled the situation appropriately. Phoenix Middle School staffers were proactive in sending letters home to parents of the children on the bus explaining the situation, Sorensen said. The school district received few calls of concerns from parents, Sorensen said.

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