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Deputy in school bus incident is penalized

Published Aug. 27, 2005

Twelve-year-old Randall Davis had just gotten off his school bus last Sept. 24 and was crossing Alt. U.S. 19 to meet his mother when an oncoming driver nearly struck him, officials say.

Traffic had stopped, and the Carwise Middle School student darted across, thinking he would make it safely, as usual.

He did make it, but not before a driver in a gold BMW pulled out of stopped traffic and narrowly missed him.

Witnesses _ including the bus driver, her assistant, another kid from the bus and a Pinellas County schools campus police officer who was sitting in traffic behind the bus _ thought the driver, Timothy Meurer, 42, of Palm Harbor, should have been charged.

Pinellas County schools police Officer Mike Kazouris pulled Meurer over and told sheriff's officials that he suspected Meurer was drunk, but he called for a deputy because he didn't think he had jurisdiction to handle the case.

But Pinellas sheriff's Deputy Brett Savage neither ticketed nor arrested Meurer. Now sheriff's officials have reprimanded Savage, 31, for his decision to send Meurer home with a neighbor without fully investigating the incident.

"During your involvement with investigation it has been determined that you were inefficient and ineffective in your duties," Savage's supervisor, Lt. Tim Szumigala, wrote on Jan. 18.

Bus driver Barbara Fieler, a 10-year veteran with the school district, said Monday that Savage, an eight-year veteran, should have gotten a stiffer penalty.

"I think that stinks," said Fieler, who had complained to the Sheriff's Office in October about the way Savage handled the matter. "As far as I'm concerned, it's gross misconduct."

Savage did not return calls for comment, but his father, Bert Savage, a 26-year veteran New York police officer, who lives in Palm Harbor, defended his son.

"One thing I do know is Brett's a good cop," Savage said. "He's got his whole heart and soul in it. We're proud of him."

In addition to investigating Savage, the Sheriff's Office investigated the incident and cited Meurer for passing a stopped school bus.

The Sheriff's Office also notified the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office of the incident, leading prosecutors to file a reckless driving charge against Meurer last month. He has pleaded not guilty.

Savage told internal affairs investigators he did not fully investigate what happened at the bus stop because he did not see it and did not realize that Meurer stopped within feet of hitting someone.

Savage said he saw crushed beer cans and warm beers sitting in a cooler in the back seat of Meurer's car and surveyed them. He also said he checked Meurer's pupils and searched Meurer's car for open cans or bottles of alcohol.

He said he asked Meurer a couple of questions to try to ascertain when he finished the beer in the crushed cans and did not believe Meurer was even "borderline drunk."

Savage said he wished he had done more sobriety tests, but he did not because he thought the incident was a routine infraction of passing a stopped school bus.

"I wasn't going to get tied up in a DUI for hours on end for something I didn't witness," he told investigators.

Kazouris, the school police officer, saw the incident from his cruiser and told investigators that Savage had all the facts he needed to warrant a full investigation, or make an arrest or referral to the State Attorney's Office.

Kazouris stopped Meurer after he almost struck Randall, but did not do the investigation himself because it was not in his jurisdiction. Meurer was in a daze and his speech was slurred, Kazouris told investigators.

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