L.A. Schools Bus Driver to Lose Job Over Crash

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

No drunk driving charges will be brought against a Los Angeles public school bus driver who was arrested after a multi-vehicle crash last month--but he will lose his job, officials said Thursday.

Jose Guadalupe Renteria, 30, of San Fernando, will not be brought to trial because he was not legally drunk at the time and "he didn't hit anyone--they all hit him," Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert Cohen said.

But Renteria's blood-alcohol content, while below the legal threshold for criminal charges, was above the 0.02% limit for Los Angeles Unified School District drivers, district Business Manager Dave Koch said. The district will fire any driver who violates that standard, and Renteria "remains suspended pending termination," Koch said.

The crash occurred early Feb. 21 on the northbound Hollywood Freeway near Vineland Avenue, when Renteria's bus was hit by a pickup truck and then two other vehicles. Five vehicles, including a second school bus, were involved in the rainy morning collision. Seven of the El Camino Real High School students on Renteria's bus suffered minor injuries.

CHP officers smelled alcohol on Renteria's breath and his blood-alcohol content tested at 0.038%, CHP Sgt. Andrew Hernandez said. The legal limit for a bus driver is 0.04%, but officers said Renteria had been on duty for an hour, so his blood-alcohol level was probably higher when he began the shift, and had dropped somewhat before he was tested.

Renteria, who school district officials said had a clean record in his eight years with the district, told officers he had been drinking the night before, officials said. He was arrested on suspicion of felony drunk driving and posted his $30,000 bail that night.

"While it's hard to condone any alcohol in a school bus driver's blood, there's no way to show that it contributed to this," Cohen said. "There's no evidence to show a causal connection between his drinking and the accident."

It would have been hard to persuade a jury to accept the CHP assertions that Renteria probably was legally intoxicated when he started his shift, Cohen added.

Shuster is a Times staff writer and Riccardi is a special correspondent.

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