Guilderland police don’t know what led Beth Aviza to allegedly pass a Mohonasen Central School District bus, stop in front of it and attempt to enter the air-locked doors while children sat inside.
But while Chief Carol Lawlor said she didn’t know what prompted Aviza, 53, of Guilderland, to cut off the school bus with her white Lexus shortly before 7:35 a.m. on Ryan Place, the incident was enough to warrant the laundry list of charges Aviza is now facing.
“She might have felt that the driver had done something,” Lawlor said. “I don’t know — I didn’t speak with her.”
She said Aviza fled in her car after failing to pry to bus’ doors open, but the bus driver gave responding Guilderland officers her license plate number. Police were able to track Aviza down and arrested her without incident, Lawlor said.
The four children on the bus were between the ages of 5 and 7, and there was no monitor on the bus, the police chief said.
Aviza was charged Monday with second-degree reckless endangerment, four counts of endangering the welfare of a child, and fourth-degree criminal mischief, all class A misdemeanors; reckless driving, an unclassified misdemeanor; and leaving a motor vehicle unattended, a traffic infraction. She was released on tickets to appear Feb. 5 in Guilderland Town Court.
Lawlor said the charges against Aviza were “very significant” for a reason and that drivers should never take matters into their own hands.
“I would suggest to anybody if they have a problem with another driver, instead of acting out on their feelings, that they contact police or contact the bus garage,” Lawlor said.
Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, said the charges aren’t significant enough, though, and is co-sponsoring legislation that would amend state Penal Law to make the punishment for Aviza’s alleged actions more severe.
The bill, which he said he plans to introduce this session, would make trespassing specifically on a school bus a crime worthy of class A misdemeanor or class C felony charges.
“By increasing these penalties, I think we’re going to deter such acts by sending a loud message that these types of violent acts, they’re not going to be tolerated,” he said.
Santabarbara said his wife, Jennifer, is a school bus monitor in the Mohonasen Central School District and his children, Michael, 13, and Marianna, 11, ride the bus to school. He said riding the bus can already be a fearful task for his son, who is autistic. Seeing an angered adult trying to board their bus can be a traumatic experience for a child, “whether they’re disabled or not,” he said.
“These types of incidents hit home for me, so we definitely want to do something to prevent these types of crimes from happening,” he said.
Santabarbara said the legislation has the support of the New York Association for Pupil Transportation. Peter Mannella, executive director of the association, said cases of adults trying to board school buses, whether out of road rage or to teach a child who is bullying their child a lesson, are becoming “more and more frequent” across the state.
“There’s no reason in the world that a mature adult should be doing that to a school bus and endangering children,” he said. “That’s criminal.”
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