Bus driver: Alleged assault was disciplinary move

Herald Staff Writer

HUNTINGBURG — Southwest Dubois School Corp. officials are still determining whether to terminate or retain a bus driver who allegedly “assaulted“ two children last week.

Don Astrike, 76 — who contracts to drive a route for the school district through an outside company — was accused by a parent of becoming rough with a middle school student and his friend while on the bus Wednesday afternoon. The incident was captured on an onboard camera from two different angles. School administrators and Huntingburg Assistant Police Chief Ronnie Bowman reviewed the tape.

The Herald received access to the recording at the police station. It clearly shows Astrike approaching the boys after one of them messed with the hair of the girl sitting behind him. Astrike leaned over the boy in the aisle seat to place his hand on the head of the boy in the seat nearest the window. Astrike jostled the boy’s head while telling him to keep his hands to himself.

Later in the video, a child can be heard cursing at Astrike and another one can be seen making an obscene gesture toward the driver.

Bowman said that the parent who filed the initial complaint as well as the legal guardians of the second boy also have seen the video and have said they will not press charges against the driver.

Bowman planned to turn over the video and his report to the Dubois County Prosecutor’s Office today or Wednesday. Superintendent Mike Eineman said he hopes to hear the prosecutor’s findings before he decides whether Astrike will be allowed to resume his route. He is not currently driving the bus for the district.

Astrike told The Herald this morning that he wishes to speak with his attorney before he comments fully on the incident, but he maintains that it was not an assault, merely a disciplinary action.

Eineman added that if Astrike is terminated as a driver, the contract will still stand and the company will have to find a substitute for him until the contract expires. The district runs 20 buses, five of which are corporation-owned, but even outside drivers are thoroughly vetted before they are allowed to transport children, he said.

“Anybody in the corporation who is hired, they all have to do a criminal background check,” he said.

The rules are the same at other local schools.

Southeast Dubois School Superintendent Rick Allen said the background checks for all potential school employees have become much more extensive in recent years. The checks are conducted in every county the prospective bus drivers, teachers or administrators have resided in during their lifetimes. Two of the district’s 17 buses are corporation-owned, and those are both equipped with cameras.

To ensure safety on the routes, Allen said he and the principals take turns riding along with each load of students at least once a year. Allen uses that time to evaluate the drivers’ interactions with the children, and he makes sure students get their say as well.

“I always ask them about their bus. Is it too full? Too noisy?” he said. “Our bus drivers are great.”

Northeast Dubois Superintendent Bill Hochgesang said the corporation does not have a formal means of evaluating the drivers, but all of them have background checks before being hired. Two of the 13 routes are owned by the district.

Contact Claire Moorman at cmoorman@dcherald.com.

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