A 56 year old school bus driver in the Lakeland School District in Northern Westchester County has been charged with felony DWI after an accident on May 11, 2015 in which the bus she was operating reportedly struck a telephone pole. Mary Coletti, of Cortlandt Manor, was transporting approximately 35 high school students to the Walter Panas High School at approximately 7:00 AM when the bus allegedly sideswiped a telephone pole on Red Mill Road, pursuant to information from the New York State Police, who investigated the accident.
When the police arrived, Ms. Coletti was asked to submit to a breathalyzer, which reportedly showed a blood alcohol content of 0.14%, significantly higher than the 0.08% the legal standard for what constitutes DWI in the state of New York. There are several additional implications which apply in this case that create more serious legal issues for Ms. Coletti. First, under Leandra’s Law, an operator who is charged with DWI with passengers under the age of 16 in the vehicle is automatically charged with a felony, and this felony charge will not be reduced pursuant to the policy of the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office. Presumably, some, if not all, of the passengers on the bus operated by Ms. Coletti were under the age of 16.
Ms. Coletti was arraigned in local Court in Cortlandt Manor, and entered a plea of not guilty. She was then transported to the Westchester County jail apparently due to the fact that she was not able to post the $1,000 bail. Because local courts such as the Cortlandt Town Court do not have jurisdiction over felony cases (these courts have jurisdiction only in misdemeanors or violations such as traffic tickets, for example), this case will ultimately have to be transferred to the Westchester County Court in White Plains. In the County Court, there will be several conferences between the Judge, the Westchester DA’s office and Ms. Coletti’s defense attorney, during which there will be discussions as to a possible plea, or if no agreement can be reached, a trial will be scheduled. Clearly, an important determination as to a potential plea will be whether any of the students were injured, and how many of the students were under the age of 16.