By Timothy Cox
Officials at the Mercer County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (MR/DD) expect the results of an investigation into a bus driver who left a disabled man unattended aboard a bus for 90 minutes to be released early next week.
Meanwhile, The Daily Standard has learned new details about the situation and the people involved.
The investigation began after bus driver Judy Eblen left the man — reportedly disabled and in his 50s — on the bus instead of taking him inside the Cheryl Ann complex for his designated MR/DD program on Feb. 27. Another MR/DD staffer discovered the mix-up about 90 minutes later and the man was unharmed. Eblen and a bus aide were immediately suspended pending the outcome of a probe conducted by an independent investigator.
Eblen and the bus aide are not employed by the county; they work for Cincinnati-based Petermann Transportation, the company the county MR/DD program chose to run its transportation services under contract more than a year ago.
The Daily Standard learned Eblen’s identity through an anonymous tip to the newspaper and confirmed her involvement with MR/DD and Petermann officials, who have declined to release the identity of the bus aide.
“We’re very thankful no one was hurt,” said Jim McDonald, Petermann’s transportation coordinator who works at the Cheryl Ann offices.
McDonald said the situation has been “embarrassing” for all involved but vowed that Petermann and county officials would work together to improve the system now used to account for clients being transported to and from MR/DD programs. He also praised Eblen’s past work record.
“I think she’s a very responsible bus driver and a very responsible employee,” McDonald said.
Reports from outside the MR/DD circle initially indicated there had been two occurrences of Eblen leaving MR/DD associates on board a bus. Officials at first denied those claims, but this week admitted a similar scenario played out several years ago. In that case, Eblen left a preschool student on board a bus for an unspecified amount of time. The child was not injured and Eblen was not punished, MR/DD Superintendent Mike Overman said.
When the first incident occurred, there was no state requirement for a major unusual incident (MUI) report to be filed on the matter, Overman said. Instead, an internal probe led to the system used today to keep track of clients on the buses.
“We discussed it. She felt terrible about it. We went from there,” Overman said of the first incident.
Overman reiterated McDonald’s statement that all steps are being taken to prevent any similar occurrences in the future.
“We are making some pretty strong efforts to do all we can ... We’re going to make sure the system is as fool-proof as it can be,” Overman said.
When the investigator’s report is released, Overman said a summary of the report would be made available to the public. The summary would include the incidents involved but would have names and other confidential material redacted, he said.
MR/DD and Petermann officials also admitted that Eblen is drawing her full salary during her suspension because she chose to use two weeks of accrued vacation time. Furthermore, the substitute bus driver tapped to fill-in during her absence is her husband, who has worked as a substitute driver for several years.
McDonald and Overman defended the propriety of allowing Eblen to use vacation while suspended and using her husband to fill the void, even though the situation seems to benefit the Eblens financially.
McDonald said any employee in a similar situation would be allowed to take accrued leave time.
Overman said appearance of impropriety fades when considering Eblen’s current suspension is not a punishment. Her removal from the job was simply standard procedure for anyone involved in an accident or other incident that requires investigation.
Eblen and the bus aide could face additional reprimands or punishment based on the results of the investigator’s report, McDonald said.