Metro Transit bus driver on leave after DWI arrest

  • Article by: LORA PABST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 24, 2009 - 5:00 PM

Passengers got off and called police, who said his blood-alcohol was six times the legal limit.

Alonzo Van Martin

Photo: Photo courtesy of the Hennepin County sheriff

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A Metro Transit bus driver was arrested Saturday night in Brooklyn Center for allegedly operating a bus while his blood-alcohol content was six times the legal limit for commercial drivers -- the first time in the transit agency's history that a driver has been arrested for drunken driving while on duty.

Police arrested the driver, Alonzo V. Martin, 46, who has a history of driving violations, around 9:40 p.m. after passengers and a following motorist called to report that the Route 5 bus was swerving and being driven erratically as it headed from Minneapolis to the Brooklyn Center Transit Station, police said.

When officers approached the bus at the Transit Station across from Brookdale Mall, Martin had slurred speech, bloodshot, watery eyes and smelled of alcohol, said Brooklyn Center police Cmdr. Tim Gannon. Martin had started his shift at 3:44 p.m. when he left the Martin J. Ruter Garage in Brooklyn Center, according to Metro Transit.

Martin told the officers that he hadn't been drinking, but an open container of alcohol was found, Gannon said. According to public records, Martin's driving record in the past 10 years includes several speeding tickets, citations for driving after withdrawal, no proof of insurance, inattentive driving and having an open bottle.

Two of those tickets -- one for inattentive driving and one for speeding -- fell within the one-year period before he was hired on Jan. 14, 2008, a violation of Metro Transit's hiring policy that disqualifies potential employees if they have more than one moving violation in the past 12 months.

Authorities said that Martin failed a field sobriety test Saturday, and that his blood-alcohol content registered at 0.24; by state law, a person is drunk at 0.08 percent and the legal limit for commercial drivers is 0.04. He is expected to be charged with third-degree DWI and having an open bottle, Gannon said.

Metro Transit spokesman Bob Gibbons said Martin is on leave from his job. He couldn't say whether Martin will be terminated until the investigation is complete.

"This has never happened to us before, so we're plowing through new territory," Gibbons said.

Police and Metro Transit praised witnesses who called about the driver. No property damage or injuries were reported from the incident, one that Metro Transit described as "outrageous."

It's unclear how many people may have been on the bus Saturday night because it was empty when officers arrived at the Transit Station, Gannon said. A few witnesses who got off at an earlier stop stayed to talk with police.

An extensive driving record

Martin had been a part-time driver until last month, when he was promoted to full time, Gibbons said. Metro Transit employs about 1,500 drivers, of whom 367 are part-time.

Metro Transit's hiring process includes an evaluation of the potential employee's driving record for the past three years, Gibbons said. Any of the following would lead to a disqualification, he said:

• More than one moving violation in the past 12 months.

• More than two moving violations in the past 24 months.

• Any of the following in the past 36 months: more than three moving violations and any offenses for DWI, careless driving, reckless driving, open bottle, leaving the scene of an accident, driving after suspension and several other moving violations.

Once drivers are hired, they are subject to random drug and alcohol testing, as well as after an accident or when there is reasonable suspicion. Their driving records are also checked daily against a public safety database that shows any current changes related to suspended licenses or DWI arrests, Gibbons said.

He said it is too early to say whether any policies might be changed as the result.

"If mistakes were made, they will be corrected," he said. "We'll be looking at all of the aspects related to his hiring and performance on the job and any other factors that show whether we might have been able to discern any troubling behavior." Lora Pabst 673-4628

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