Driver accused of drinking beer on school bus ticketed in 2017 for open alcohol in SUV
A Speedway gasoline station clerk is being praised by Aurora police for reporting suspicions that a school bus driver was drinking beer while transporting 32 students Nov. 15 for classes at Johnson Elementary School.
The driver, 44-year-old Michelle Passley of North Aurora, has been charged with two misdemeanor counts of endangering the life or health of a child. Police also have notified the secretary of state's office and asked that it review Passley's commercial driver's license.
Passley has been fired by the bus company.
Police Chief Kristen Ziman said Tuesday the clerk at the station's convenience store on North Farnsworth Avenue became concerned when, after selling a woman two cans of beer, the clerk saw the woman drive off in a school bus. The clerk called East Aurora District 131 to alert officials.
"But for that convenience store clerk who contacted the school district, we would be none the wiser," Ziman said.
District officials called First Student Bus Co. to report their concerns. The company reviewed surveillance video and then called police.
Ziman said video from the bus showed Passley drinking from the beer cans that she had placed in a paper bag.
Ziman said Passley picked up her bus at 6 a.m. and drove one route before stopping at the Speedway.
She was arrested Monday night and released on $100 bond. Her first court date is Dec. 17.
It's not the first time Passley has been accused of driving with open alcohol. On May 28, 2017, she received a citation from Illinois State Police at 4:45 p.m. on eastbound I-88 at milepost 135.5 in DuPage County, charging her with transportation or possession of open alcohol by a driver. The citation says she had a 12-ounce bottle of Mike's Hard Lemonade.
Court records indicate she was fined $120. She did not pay on time, so DuPage County courts notified the secretary of state's office. She eventually paid in January 2018, and the courts then sent another report to the secretary of state.
The citation indicates she had a Class B commercial driver's license, and she was driving a Chevy Blazer.
Ziman said she did not know how long Passley had worked for the company.
The chief said the driver's actions on Nov. 15 were "absolutely brazen" and infuriating.
"Another shoutout to that convenience store clerk who had the wherewithal to contact the school district so that they could intervene," Ziman said.
First Student Bus Co. released a statement Tuesday.
"At First Student, there is nothing more important than the safety of the students we transport. We understand and share in the concern this incident has caused," the statement read. "We are incredibly disappointed by our former driver's actions. First Student has a zero-tolerance policy for employees whose actions may put others at risk. Behavior such as this is completely unacceptable and at odds with what we stand for as a company. The driver has been terminated."
The statement said the company would not comment on the case further.
In its own statement late Tuesday afternoon, District 131 officials said they had informed parents and guardians of students who ride the route about the case.
"Obviously, news of this incident is very disturbing, as the safety of our students is always our number one priority," officials said in a news release.