The Riverhead Police Department received a call just after 4:30 p.m. Tuesday that the driver from the Baiting Hollow Scout Camp was possibly impaired while operating a bus with juvenile day campers and camp staff onboard.
Officers responded to the scene and learned that the operator, 61-year-old Diane Juergens, had just been involved in two separate motor vehicle accidents on Sound Avenue near Oak Hills, just west of the camp, and had left the scene of both crashes.
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Police say she first hit a cement pillar, then failed to fully stop at a stop sign and struck a vehicle. The other driver managed to swerve out of the way but sustained some damage.
Juergens registered a .27 blood alcohol content, more than three times the legal limit.
She was arrested and charged with one count of aggravated DWI - Leandra's Law, two counts of leaving the scene of an accident, and 10 counts of endangering the welfare of a child.
Juergens' license was suspended during her court appearance, and 10 orders of protection were issued for each of the juvenile day campers who were on the bus at the time.
She pleaded not guilty. Eyewitness News reporter Kristin Thorne attempted to speak with Juergens when she arrived home in a taxi following her arraignment, but she didn't want to speak with us.
The bus belonged to 1st Student Bus Company of Hicksville and was impounded and held at the Riverhead Police Impound.
"At First Student, there is nothing more important than the safety of the passengers we transport," the company said in a statement. "We understand and share in the concern this incident has caused. We are incredibly disappointed by our driver's actions. Behavior such as this is unacceptable and does not align with the high standards we strive for in all we do. We have initiated the termination process. Since the incident occurred, we have been working with police to support their investigation. Given this is an active investigation, we are unable to comment further."
No injuries were reported by any involved parties, including the juvenile day campers onboard the bus.
All campers were returned to their families without incident.
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While the charges are not bail eligible, Riverhead Town Justice Sean Walter agreed with prosecutors for supervised release.
"While I find this is not a bail eligible offense, I am going to put her in pre trial supervised release...given the nature of the circumstances," he said. "The endangerment of the children, the high blood alcohol content, it would appear to the court there may be a substance abuse problem here."
Daniel Ginty, of the Legal Aid Society, noted it was Juergens' first arrest and her husband recently died of cancer.
Just last month, the Boy Scouts celebrated the grand opening of a brand new lodge at the Baiting Hollow camp named after Suffolk Boy Scout Andrew McMorris who was killed by a drunk driver in 2018 while on a hike with the Scouts.
Melodie Montefusco, whose son attends the Baiting Hollow camp and takes the bus, said she was shocked to hear the news.
"I'm glad my son wasn't on the bus yesterday," she said.
The Suffolk County Council of the Boy Scouts of America released the following statement in regards to this incident.
"Nothing is more important than the safety of our youth members. As part of our regular safety measures, we always have a staff member on board each bus that takes youth members to and from camp. Upon realizing that something was wrong with the bus driver, our staff member took immediate action, and we were able to safely remove all youth members from the bus before contacting authorities. There were no injuries thanks to this quick action. Since this is an ongoing investigation, please contact law enforcement for any further information."
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