A Biddeford School District bus driver will return to work after prosecutors dropped charges that he was driving under the influence of drugs while carrying a load of students down the Maine Turnpike last year.

The Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office decided not to pursue the case because a breath test and a urine test revealed no evidence of alcohol or drugs, authorities said this week. The driver, Richard Tanguay, had been on paid administrative leave, and the school district announced Friday that he had been reinstated.

Richard Tanguay Photo courtesy of Jeremy Ray

That announcement included a written statement from Tanguay.

“I know in this day and age people are often quick to accuse,” he said. “I am extremely disappointed at the social media incrimination and hurtful attacks toward my character without cause. I have spent the last 42 years as a bus driver, and I would never intentionally do anything to harm our youth. I’m grateful I have students, parents and an employer who waited for all the facts to be presented before a final decision was rendered.”

Tanguay, 69, was driving the high school field hockey team home from its championship match in Oakland on Nov. 2. A Maine State Police trooper stopped the bus around 8 p.m. on the Maine Turnpike southbound in Scarborough for alleged erratic driving and speeding in a construction zone.

The trooper arrested Tanguay and charged him with operating under the influence of drugs, driving to endanger and endangering the welfare of a child. Those charges are Class D and E crimes, which are misdemeanors. Tanguay posted $500 bail at the Cumberland County Jail, and he was scheduled for an initial appearance in January.

But Maine State Police spokesman Steve McCausland said the drug test of a urine sample came back with negative results. So the prosecutor filed a notice with the court Jan. 10 that said the office would not pursue the charges, and Cumberland County District Attorney Jonathan Sahrbeck also confirmed this week that the case was closed.

“Based upon a subsequent investigation, the district attorney’s office could not go forward with criminal charges,” Sahrbeck said.

Despite the district attorney’s court filing nearly one month ago, both Tanguay’s defense attorney and the Biddeford superintendent said they were not told about the decision and only learned the charges had been dropped when a Portland Press Herald reporter contacted them this week. The Maine State Police published information about the arrest on its Facebook page last year, but did not make a public announcement about the resolution of the case until a reporter asked for an update.

Superintendent Jeremy Ray released a written statement Friday that said Tanguay would return to work immediately, but didn’t specify when he would be back behind the wheel.

“Awaiting these results is the exact reason we place valued employees on administrative leave while investigations are ongoing,” Ray said. “Although State Trooper Patrick Hall felt probable cause to arrest Mr. Tanguay, it would have been grossly negligent to accuse him without valid proof. Student safety is always our first priority and these additional negative test results further substantiated his innocence and the school department has reinstated him.”

Tanguay is a full-time bus driver in the district. His attorney, Ed Folsom, said Thursday that the initial court appearance never happened, and he thought the case was simply delayed because of a backlog at the Maine State Police Crime Lab.

“He’s certainly happy to be vindicated, but he knew all along that he would be,” Folsom said.

School officials said the bus was carrying about 30 coaches and student athletes from the Biddeford High School girls’ field hockey team. The superintendent told the Portland Press Herald at the time that no passengers reported anything out of the ordinary during the ride back from Oakland.

The day after the arrest, state police issued a news release that said the trooper observed the bus speeding in a construction zone, failing to signal lane changes and failing to stay in one lane. It is not clear how fast Tanguay was driving at the time.

Police said the trooper noticed signs of impairment once he stopped Tanguay, so he conducted a field sobriety test and then transported Tanguay to the jail in Portland. At the jail, the news release said Tanguay was given a breath test and an exam by drug recognition experts from the Freeport Police Department, but it did not include any further detail about those tests.

Folsom said his client did get a copy of the breath test results, which showed a blood alcohol level of 0.0 percent. Because the case did not move forward, the attorney never received any other investigative documents, like a police report or the official results of the urine test. Folsom suggested Tanguay’s performance in the field sobriety test was related to age, and he said police never indicated what type of drugs they suspected were involved in this case.

McCausland said he did not know what specific signs led the trooper to believe Tanguay was driving under the influence.

“There are no plans to recharge him on any offense,” McCausland said.

The process used by drug recognition experts has long been used across the country and supported by the federal government. But those techniques have been scrutinized, especially as recreational marijuana becomes legal in more states. In New Jersey, for example, the state’s top court is considering a challenge to their scientific reliability.

State records indicated that Tanguay had no criminal record in Maine, and his most recent driving violation was a seat belt ticket issued in 2015. He was involved in a minor collision while driving a Biddeford school bus in 2011, but he was not cited for a traffic infraction, and no one was injured.

The superintendent said last year that all school bus drivers must complete an annual Maine Department of Transportation physical exam and medications screening test to qualify for a commercial driver’s license. Biddeford’s bus drivers had the physical exam in August, but Ray said the school department does not receive any details due to health privacy laws and only learns whether the doctor conducting the exam passed or failed the driver.

During their annual commercial driver’s license exam, drivers are required to disclose prescription medications. Doctors must determine if the drugs a driver has been prescribed will interfere with his or her ability to operate a bus, Ray said.

In addition to the annual screening tests, any employee who operates a vehicle for the Biddeford School Department is subject to random drug testing administered by a third party.

Folsom said Tanguay did not want to be interviewed.

“Some of these people who are parents now have known him for 20, 30 years,” Folsom said. “Now everybody’s looking at him like, wow, what did you do? … That is traumatic. You just sit there and wait until the day the truth wins out.”

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