Tuesday, October 21, 2008
BY PETE SHELLEM
Of The Patriot-News
When Eric Sebastian saw his 5-year-old daughter’s school bus drive away with the kindergartner still aboard, he did what almost any parent would do. He gave chase.
It could have cost him his job as a state trooper.
Lower Paxton Twp. police cited him at the next stop for driving too near the bus, a violation that carries a six-month license suspension. Sebastian’s attorney, Brian Perry, said that would have jeopardized his client’s employment.
But District Judge Joseph Lindsey threw the charge out Monday.
“It’s my job to rule on the facts, but it’s also my job to do what’s right,” Lindsey said at the conclusion of the hourlong hearing. “Case dismissed.”
Perry said the charge should never have been filed.
“I can’t figure out why discretion isn’t used anymore,” he said after the hearing. “There’s not a parent I know who wouldn’t have reacted similarly.”
Sebastian was waiting with his mother and sister for the Central Dauphin School District bus to drop off his daughter, Jocelyn, on Aug. 28, her fourth day of kindergarten at Paxtonia Elementary School. But the bus stopped, then drove away without her getting off on Devonshire Road.
Sebastian testified that he saw his daughter start to rise, but heard the bus driver telling other children to sit. Jocelyn sat down as well.
The bus drove away with Sebastian running after it and yelling. When he realized he couldn’t catch it on foot, he followed in his car. At the next stop, he passed two cars behind the bus, pulled alongside and told the driver his daughter was still aboard.
The driver, Stephanie Jones, said Sebastian’s actions set off “red flags” for her and she insisted he follow her to another location where she could stop. In the meantime, she was summoning police.
Sebastian eventually stepped on the bus and told his crying daughter to step off. He said he had picked her up at the stop the previous three days.
Lower Paxton Twp. Cpl. Tim Pulchalski responded to the driver’s call and cited Sebastian with pulling within 10 feet of a bus with flashing red lights.
He testified that Sebastian should have handled the situation differently because his child wasn’t in danger.
Sebastian, who never identified himself as a state trooper, conceded he might have driven within 10 feet of the bus, but said traffic was stopped in both directions and no one was in danger.
“I knew it was a bus stop, I knew there were kids getting off the bus,” he testified. “I wasn’t going to do anything to put anyone in harm’s way. I just wanted to get the driver’s attention and get my daughter.”
At the hearing, Jones said she was following regulations and considering the safety of the children.
Under questioning by Perry, she expressed no regrets for not making sure the child got off at the right stop.
“Do you blame him for being irate?” Perry asked.
“Yes, I do blame him, because I’m a bus driver, I’m responsible for the safety of the children,” she said.