By the time he allegedly fell asleep behind the wheel of a bus carrying 18 schoolchildren earlier this week, Mohamed M. Wasuge had racked up a host of traffic violations and concerns about his attentiveness.
How did someone with a questionable driving record end up at the helm of a school bus? Because under Minnesota law, his violations hadn’t risen to a serious enough level to warrant termination of his bus driving privileges.
An attorney for Bille Bus Transportation, which employed Wasuge, said the company would have never hired him had it known about his record.
“There’s just too many violations in that record,” said Bruce Goldstein, who represents the company and its owner, Abdirizak Bille. “He was asked about his record, and did not disclose any violations like that.”
Bille Bus Transporation hired Wasuge, 31, about two months ago, and fired him after he crashed a school bus about 8 a.m. Monday into three parked cars in St. Paul, careened over a curb and nearly struck a building. Police cited him Wednesday for careless driving, saying witnesses reported that he had fallen asleep.
Two students and an adult bus monitor bound for West Side Summit Charter School were briefly hospitalized for aches and pains.
Goldstein said that a company that conducts background checks for Bille Bus had cleared Wasuge for employment. It was only after the crash, Goldstein said, that Bille Bus learned that Wasuge had failed to provide a signed consent form to the contractor that would allow it to complete a full background check.
It’s unclear why that issue didn’t come up earlier, or whether the contractor searched public records available at any courthouse in Minnesota or on the state court’s website via private computer.
Bille said he’s committed to making sure the same mistakes don’t happen again.
“I’m very serious about the safety of these kids,” Bille said. “We have zero tolerance.”
When a driver is hired or renews a license, Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS) checks the person’s driving record for disqualifying convictions. In addition, the bus company is required to check the driver’s status annually and keep a copy of the driving record in the driver’s file. Troopers also can run the driving records to look for this violation history.
Minnesota law requires bus drivers to report convictions for moving violations to their employer and DVS within 30 days. If they fail to do so, they may be cited for that as well. Drivers who lose their license must notify their employer before the end of the next business day.
The court also must notify the Department of Public Safety and the school district when a bus driver is convicted of any felony, a gross misdemeanor, an impaired driving offense, or a fourth moving violation within three years.
Despite Wasuge’s driving record, he apparently did not meet the legal criteria to revoke his bus driving endorsement. His convictions, one from 2003 and 10 from 2010 to 2015, are petty misdemeanors, and many involved parking meter violations.
School bus companies should be holding themselves to a higher standard, said Nancy Johnson, legislative liaison for Minnesotans for Safe Driving.
“All bus companies should be very aware of the safety history of their drivers, because they’re carrying children,” said Johnson.
Wasuge was sentenced last year to a year of probation for not having proof of insurance. A charge of failing to obey a traffic control device was dismissed in that case after he paid a diversion surcharge.
He was also convicted in 2006 and 2014 of failing to obey a traffic control device; the older case was dismissed once he met conditions of his sentencing.
West Side Summit executive director Karen Klinzing said that a month earlier, the school expressed concerns to Bille Bus about Wasuge “being attentive at the wheel” because he was arriving to school late.
A week before the crash, Wasuge was cited in Ramsey County District Court with unsafe lane usage after he crashed into a guardrail. An officer noted the cause as, “Driver inattention at the time of crash,” and said there was no ice on the roadway as Wasuge had claimed. Goldstein said no one at Bille Bus was aware of that case.
“I have five kids, and I would never allow anything to happen to them,” Bille said, “And I feel that way about any other child.”
Staff writer Dan Browning contributed to this report.