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Ex-school bus driver avoids jail

A remorseful former Iroquois Central School bus driver was spared a jail term Monday for being drunk when he drove four special-needs students in a district-owned passenger vehicle this spring.

Robert A. Donnelly, 70, of Brooklea Drive, East Aurora, told Senior Erie County Judge Michael L. D'Amico the "hardest part" of his felony drunken driving conviction for him "has been the loss of respect" he has suffered from students, sports-team coaches and parents in the school district.

Donnelly, who had been a district bus driver for nine years before he was fired after the April 20 incident, was placed on probation for fives years and ordered to pay $1,520 in fines and court fees and to attend a drunken driving victim-impact session.

The judge, noting Donnelly had gone "70 years without so much as spitting on a sidewalk," also revoked his driver's license and ordered him to attend any counseling sessions the Erie County Probation Department may find warranted.

D'Amico also told him he has to apply for court permission in the future to regain his general driving privileges.

Donnelly told the judge he would continue his volunteer work with area community groups.

After the sentencing, Edward J. Snyder, Donnelly's attorney, stressed that his client has been doing community service work for decades.

Donnelly pleaded guilty to a felony drunken driving charge May 27.

Though the incident did not involve an accident or injuries to anyone, Kelley A. Omel, chief of the Erie County district attorney's Vehicular Crimes Unit, said Donnelly's first drunken driving offense under state law was automatically a felony because it involved a school vehicle carrying students.

According to State Police reports, Donnelly had driven four teenage children with special learning needs in a district-owned passenger vehicle from Iroquois High School in Elma to Baker Road School in Orchard Park, and school officials detected an odor of alcohol when he returned.