Only hours after a Santa Ana school bus driver pleaded innocent Tuesday to charges that he kidnaped his 10 young passengers, school board members asked the California Highway Patrol to make it tougher to obtain a CHP bus operator's certificate.
By a 5-0 vote, the Santa Ana Unified School District Board of Education adopted a resolution urging the CHP to expand its list of mandatory reasons to automatically deny or revoke a school bus operator's certificate.
The school board resolution urges the CHP to add 13 more mandatory reasons, including "irrational behavior" and violations of the California Vehicle Code or other laws "governing the safe operation of vehicles, the use of highways, or pupil transportation safety." A bus operator's certificate now must be automatically denied or revoked for convictions such as sex offenses or driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Board member Joan Wilkinson, who offered the resolution at Tuesday night's regular board meeting, said the incident involving the Santa Ana school bus driver "certainly makes us aware of a shortcoming or loophole" in existing driver certification procedures.
Bus driver Ignacio R. Granados, 25, entered a not guilty plea Tuesday morning before Santa Ana Municipal Judge C. Robert Jameson, who scheduled a preliminary hearing for March 25. The suspect was being held in County Jail in lieu of $250,000 bail.
Granados was arrested Feb. 20 after he allegedly kidnaped and threatened to "blow up" the 10 students with a cigarette lighter and gasoline after picking them up at Glen Martin Elementary School in Santa Ana.
The pupils, ages 10 to 12, have been undergoing psychological counseling since the incident, according to school officials.
Tom Berthold, president of Taylor Bus Service of Anaheim, has said his company relied heavily on the certificate issued by the CHP in hiring Granados.
The certificates are issued when a job applicant has successfully completed 40 hours of bus driver training, has passed CHP-administered written exams and driving tests, and after the state Department of Motor Vehicles has reviewed the applicant's driving record and criminal "rap sheet" (a computer printout listing arrests and convictions), according to state officials.
According to court records and interviews with state officials, Granados was granted a CHP certificate and was hired by Taylor Bus Service despite misdemeanor convictions for harassing a college instructor and driving with a suspended (civilian) license, and after he had received tickets for failure to heed traffic signals and signs.
CHP and DMV officials have said they did not consider Granados' previous problems significant enough to deny him a certificate. They said there are specific regulations that require denial of certificate, but only in cases where an applicant has been convicted of offenses such as rape or driving under the influence.