Homecoming party bus incident leads to charges, suspensions

November 1, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

Teenagers drinking beer and liquor on a party bus headed for the Issaquah High School homecoming dance led to student suspensions and charges against the bus driver after the Oct. 22 event.

Issaquah High School administrators suspended nine students for alcohol infractions in connection to the party bus incident. Police and school administrators started investigating the incident after intoxicated students arrived at the homecoming dance.

The bus driver, a 49-year-old Auburn woman, faces charges in Issaquah Municipal Court for furnishing liquor to minors and reckless endangerment — both gross misdemeanors punishable by up to one year imprisonment and a fine of up to $5,000.

Police said students aboard the bus — rented from Seattle Party Bus, a bus and limousine service — convinced the driver to purchase alcohol for them and collected money for the purchases.

Investigators said the driver then headed to the state-run liquor store in Issaquah, along Northwest Gilman Boulevard, and purchased beer and liquor for the underage riders just before 6 p.m. Oct. 22.

Police said about 20 students rode the bus to homecoming at the school’s downtown Issaquah campus. The driver did not consume alcohol, Issaquah Police Patrol Cmdr. Scott Behrbaum said.

Later, at the dance, officers and school administrators encountered intoxicated students from the party bus.

Officials suspended four students at the dance and five more students at school in the days after the celebration, Issaquah School District spokeswoman Sara Niegowski said.

Under district rules for student conduct, first-time offenders face emergency expulsion followed by a suspension of up to 90 days for alcohol infractions. Students facing emergency expulsion can agree to complete a disciplinary program and earn back credit for all but 10 of the suspension days. The punishment for repeat offenders is expulsion from the district.

Behrbaum said at least some of the students face criminal charges as minors in possession for bringing alcohol onto school grounds. Police must catch underage drinkers in the act in order to arrest someone for being a minor in possession.

(Issaquah police officers usually assist school administrators and chaperones at homecoming and other nighttime school functions, such as dances and football games.)

Owner: Violation is ‘isolated incident’

The investigation deepened in the days after the homecoming dance, as police received more information about students aboard the party bus. Then, as students returned to classes Oct. 24, Issaquah police investigators told school administrators the underage-drinking incident encompassed more students than the group disciplined at the dance.

Police interviewed more students and, as more information about the incident surfaced, school administrators ordered emergency expulsions for additional students.

Seattle Party Bus owner Bill Wolsted said the bus driver charged in the incident had been suspended after the incident and later resigned from the company.

“We do not provide alcohol in any way, shape or form,” Wolsted said. “We can’t even take it from their house or their apartment to the bus. They bring it to the limo or whatever, we can’t touch it. Our company policy is that we cannot touch it.”

The rule applies to minors and adults 21 and older. However, clients often ask bus drivers to purchase alcohol for passengers to drink aboard the party bus.

“This is totally against all of our policies and most other party bus companies,” Wolsted said. “It’s not tolerated and it’s an isolated incident that’s going to be dealt with accordingly.”

Behrbaum said Wolsted cooperated during the investigation into the Issaquah High School incident.

“This was an isolated incident and it’s going to be dealt with accordingly,” Wolsted said. “We are in total support of the police department and the school to get this thing totally resolved, and not to happen again.”

Behrbaum said alcohol and drug infractions occur often among Issaquah teenagers, although the number of students involved in the homecoming incident set the episode apart.

“We do run across juveniles who have been drinking or using drugs, so it’s not abnormal for us to run across this at one of these events,” he said.

Principal Paula Phelps said the incident offered a chance for parents to educate teenagers about consequences related to alcohol and drug abuse.

“Overall, the homecoming celebration and dance were exceptionally positive, and we do not expect this incident to involve more than an isolated group of students. However, we take this very seriously and will continue to work with parents and community members to remind students of the dangers of drugs/alcohol,” she said in a message emailed to parents and students Oct. 25.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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