Two school bus drivers have been suspended without pay amid investigations into allegations they sold heroin and had drugs in the presence of children.
Police arrested Jorge "Wapito" Aviles, 28, of Vernon and his girlfriend, Ashley Byrdsong, 29, of Manchester, around 6 a.m. on Thursday. Both work for DATTCO out of South Windsor and passed background checks, according to a statement from DATTCO.
Both have been driving students at Capitol Region Education Council (CREC) schools and CREC has disqualified them from driving any CREC-contracted buses, according to a statement from DATTCO.
Aviles is accused of selling heroin in the Vernon/Rockville area and from his apartment at 15 Park West Drive in Vernon, according to police. When police took him into cutody, they found a .40-caliber handgun in his waistband, according to police.
Aviles and Byrdsong were arrested on Thursday morning after authorities searched their homes and found a .45-caliber gun, 270 bags of heroin, packaging materials and $187 cash, police said.
Police stopped Aviles while he was leaving Byrdsong’s apartment at 360 Oakland Street in Manchester and discovered a .40-caliber handgun on him, according to police.
Both Aviles and Byrdsong are facing several drug charges, including possession of heroin, sale of heroin and operating a drug factory.
Since Byrdson's three preteen children were in the apartment, Aviles and Byrdsong are also charged with three counts of risk of injury to a minor, according to police.
DATTCO Safety Director Frank Baio said Aviles has been employed there since October 2012.
Bloomfield schools released a statement on Friday, saying Byrdsong was a school bus driver providing morning service to two out-of-town students enrolled in the Wintonbury Early Childhood Magnet School in Bloomfield.
She did not drive the Bloomfield bus on Thursday or Friday.
CREC released a statement about the arrests on Friday afternoon.
“Another way to look at this incident is that Connecticut needs to take a serious look at the minimum standards for all bus drivers in the state,” said CREC Executive Director Bruce Douglas.
CREC is contracted by the Connecticut Regional School Choice Office to provide transportation to choice schools for Hartford Public Schools; Bloomfield Public Schools; East Hartford Public Schools; Goodwin College; some state vocational technical schools; and CREC’s 19 schools.
Aviles is being represented by a public defender. He posted bail and is due back in court on Sept. 29.
Byrdsond also appeared in court Friday and her family will post bond, according to Byrdsong's attorney, Ron Johnson, who said Byrdsong was not involved in heroin sales and didn't know about the drugs.
"She had no knowledge of the narcotics," Johnson said. "She didn't know. Love is blind. She didn't know; she had no knowledgte this person was involved with narcotics."
Baio said students were never in harm's way and no illicit activity happened while the drivers was he was on duty.
"We strive for the highest degree of safety among drivers," Baio said. "We do yearly background checks and random drug tests. There was never any indication that these individuals engaged in any elicit activity."
Officials from the Bloomfield public schools said they are working with the police and DATTCO on the investigation.