Willimantic School Van Driver Charged With DUI After Crash

Police said four students riding in the van were hospitalized after the crash.

A school van driver in Willimantic is facing DUI charges for the September crash that sent four students to the hospital.

Police said 52-year-old Catherine Caron, of Scotland, Connecticut, was driving a van for the regional education service center EASTCONN when she struck a pole in the area of 90 Quarry Street in Willimantic on Sept. 10.

Four children between the ages of 8 and 15 were riding in the van with Caron, who was driving them to Windham High School, Windham Middle School and Natchaug Elementary School, according to an EASTCONN spokesperson.

A Willimantic resident who identified herself as the students' grandmother said the day of the crash was the first time the siblings had taken the van to school.

Caron and the students were treated for "bumps and bruises" at Windham Hospital but were not seriously hurt, according to police.

"We were very fortunate with this investigation. This accident could have turned tragic very, very quickly," said Willimantic police spokesman Cpl. Stan Parizo, Jr. "This borderlines on egregious behavior. It's far beyond irresponsible to be under the influence and to be driving around students in a school van."

Caron was arrested Nov. 6 and charged with driving under the influence, possession of a controlled substance and risk of injury.

She was placed on paid administrative leave after the crash and has since been fired, according to EASTCONN. Caron worked for the transportation service for 10 years and was in "good standing" prior to the incident.

Representatives for EASTCONN called the situation a "deeply regrettable, concerning event" and said all drivers undergo "an intensive training program" with yearly refreshers. They are fingerprinted and background checked.

"I personally think that EASTCONN should probably monitor who they are hiring a little more," said Kristen Morang, the parent of a student who uses EASTCONN transportation. "If they are not doing random drug testing and alcohol testing, I think they should implement that."

EASTCONN said a drug-testing program is in place.

"EASTCONN's Transportation Department requires all of its drivers to participate in a random drug-testing program, which is administered by an outside firm," said a spokesperson.

In response to the charges, EASTCONN officials said they're taking a close look at their training process and will consider making changes.

"As part of our ongoing work to continuously improve training practices and procedures, we are reviewing our driver-training program," EASTCONN said in a statement Thursday.

Caron was released on $10,000 bond and is due in court Nov. 17.

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