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Forum staff reports, Published February 03 2011

West Fargo school bus driver suspected of DUI

WEST FARGO - A West Fargo school bus driver was arrested Wednesday afternoon on suspicion of drunken driving after getting stuck in a snowbank while he was on his way to pick up a group of children.

A passer-by reported the stuck school bus about 2:30 p.m. on the 100 block of 32nd Avenue, West Fargo police Lt. Duane Sall said.

When officers responded to the scene, the bus was running and the driver, Steven C. Sauer, was sitting inside near the back.

“Officers determined he wasn’t acting normal. Paramedics responded and cleared him medically,” Sall said.

Officers could smell alcohol on Sauer, 59, and administered field sobriety tests, Sall said.

In a news release, West Fargo School District said today that 40 of its 52 routes are run with buses owned and operated by the district. The remainder of the routes are contracted with Valley Bus Services, the firm that employs Sauer.

No children were on the bus at the time of the incident. Sauer had been on his way to pick up about 40 Aurora Elementary School students and drive Route 56 when the bus became stuck.

Sauer was placed under arrest and taken to Essentia Health for a blood alcohol test before he was taken to the Cass County Jail and booked on suspicion of DUI.

Sauer remained at the jail late Wednesday night. Attempts to contact Sauer were unsuccessful.

Sall said the bus was not damaged and was driven away from the scene by Valley Bus Co. staff.

Roger Peterson, route manager for Valley Bus Co., would not comment on the incident or Sauer’s history with the company.

“No comment. It is under investigation by the police,” Peterson said.

Karen Nitzkorski, West Fargo School Board chairwoman, said Valley Bus Co. has had a good record with the district in the past.

“We try to take good care of all of our students and our buses, so this was an unfortunate incident,” Nitzkorski said.

The district said that its contract with Valley Bus requires the firm to have similar quality assurance requirements as the district in employing and screening bus drivers.

That includes:

Pre-employment, random, post-accident and reasonable suspicion drug and alcohol testing

Background checks.

North Dakota Department of Transportation record checks.

The district said a review of the process used in hiring Sauer indicated that all procedures had been followed. Sauer had been hired and began the route less than a week before the incident occurred, the district said.

A North Dakota Department of Public Instruction policy states that school bus drivers are not allowed to consume “intoxicating beverages” during or eight to nine hours prior to any trip in which students are transported.

According to the Valley Bus Co. website, school bus drivers must be able to obtain a commercial driver’s license, pass required physical and drug tests and have a clean driving record with no DUI or reckless driving charges.

North Dakota and Minnesota court records showed only one traffic offense on Sauer’s record: a 2009 speeding ticket in Cass County. Sauer pleaded guilty and paid a $10 fine.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530