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Breathalyzers may be added to West Fargo school buses after incident

Officials from Valley Bus Co. and West Fargo School District said Thursday they are still investigating how a newly hired bus driver accused of driving a school bus into a snowbank managed to avoid detection despite background checks and being observed by several people.

Wednesday's incident, which resulted in the firing of 59-year-old Steven C. Sauer, also has Valley Bus looking at installing Breathalyzers on its buses to prevent similar incidents, route manager Roger Peterson said.

Sauer passed all drug and alcohol checks before being hired and didn't appear intoxicated to several people before he drove his Route 56 bus into a snowbank on Wednesday, Peterson said.

Sauer, 59, was driving to pick up students from Aurora Elementary at the end of the school day.

Peterson said the firm hasn't had contact with Sauer, but "he won't be coming back. With what he's done, that's automatic termination."

Mike Reitan, the assistant chief for the West Fargo Police Department, said he could not reveal the result of a Breathalyzer test taken by Sauer on Wednesday. He said Sauer's official blood alcohol concentration won't be known until test results return from a state lab in seven to 10 days.

Sauer was still in the Cass County Jail on Thursday evening awaiting trial, jail and police officials said.

Sauer had worked about a week for Valley Bus. He also worked for the firm in 2009 in a stint that lasted a year, Peterson said.

In both cases, Sauer passed all pre-employment drug and alcohol screening and a Department of Transportation-mandated physical, Peterson said.

"In the 20-year history of the Valley Bus companies, we have never experienced an event like this," company officials said.

Peterson said Sauer's background check found no criminal activity, and only one speeding ticket in 2006.

Sauer was seen by several people Wednesday before his shift started at 1:30 p.m., and didn't look intoxicated, Peterson said.

"How he did it, I have no idea," he said.

He said Valley Bus may install Breathalyzers on its buses. The devices won't allow a bus to be started if the driver is intoxicated.

School District Superintendent David Flowers and Transportation Director Brad Redmond said the district has had a good three-year relationship with Valley Bus, which operates 12 of the district's 52 bus routes. The rest of the routes use district buses and employees, they said.

Flowers called it "one bad incident" and said "our transportation services are committed to the safety of students above all else."

Flowers said he received three e-mails about the incident. He said it doesn't appear fewer children rode buses Thursday due to the incident.

Redmond said district buses travel 600,000 miles a year and only one minor accident has been recorded this year.

He said West Fargo schools use Sanford Health for drug and alcohol screening and physicals, and the FBI for background checks.

West Fargo pays about $260 per day per bus route, Redmond said.

Peterson said the firm has about 120 drivers, mechanics and aides. It runs 70 to 80 buses a day for Fargo and West Fargo schools on 250 routes.

Sauer could not be reached at the jail for comment.