KINGSTON, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Concerns and in some cases downright outrage from parents of special needs children who learned that the person driving the van with children inside was doing so with a suspended license.
Parents are not happy and neither are officials at the Jewish Community Center who hired the transportation company to take their kids to and from their annual summer camp.
“Nobody knew about this? It’s crazy. Something needs to be changed for the background checks on these drivers,” parent Heather Dapkins said.
Dapkins says she could not believe it when she heard that the driver of the van transporting her 18-year-old special needs son Austin had a suspended drivers’ license. On Friday, she was there as he boarded another van to return to the JCC summer camp.
Adults who were on that van said the van was pulled over along route 309 in Kingston Township. The officer noticed a taillight or brake light out. When he asked the female driver for her license, he learned it was suspended.
The officer told the driver she could not get behind the wheel. The transportation company, Wyoming Valley West Transportation Incorporation, sent a second vehicle with another driver to the scene to transport the kids back to the Jewish Community Center in Kingston. Dapkins’ son was picked up on route 309 by a family member.
“These are kids with special needs. Some of them are very intelligent and very independent. Some of them can’t speak and don’t know what’s going on,” Dapkins said.
Cathy Serpe’s granddaughter called her from the van and told her what was happening.
“Yeah I was a little upset over that because you would think that all of this was checked out before they have drivers taking them to and from. I mean these are special needs kids,” Serpe said.
The owner of WVW Transport, Patrick Hogan, sent a statement to the I-Team. Hogan said he fired the driver of the van as well as the person who maintains the company’s drivers’ records and they are re-evaluating their record-keeping procedures.
Hogan added: “I can only express my deepest regrets to the children and parents of the children that this unfortunate event occurred. Moving forward as a company, we will be working harder than ever to keep every child we transport safe and hold ourselves to the highest standards in providing that service.”
The chief operating officer of the Jewish Community Center, Len Zimmerman, said they contract out the transportation service to Wyoming Valley West Transportation Incorporated.
“We are not happy about what happened. We are investigating the situation. We have been in touch with the transport company. The safety of our children is always our top priority,” Zimmerman said.
The Dallas Township police chief Doug Higgins tells Eyewitness News that the van driver was cited by the officer and that her driver’s license had been suspended because of nonpayment of a fine.
Generally speaking, most transportation companies, especially those who transport children, do driver background checks at least once a year.