Mom Charged with Unlawfully Entering School Bus

Jeffrey B. Engle

Case Conclusion Date:July 28, 2011

Practice Area:Criminal Defense

Outcome:Charges dismissed

Description:Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Perry County, 246-CR-2011 v. Tara Keener Attorney Jeffrey B. Engle Charge: Unauthorized Entry onto a School Bus, 18 PaC.S.A. §5517 Tara Keener, a married, registered nurse and mother of two young boys, found herself in a terrible situation after an incident at her home in December 2010. Her oldest son, Xander, age 5, was being dropped off that afternoon by Dum's Bus Service at their house in New Bloomfield, Perry County. As she approached the bus, the doors opened, she could hear two other children yelling that they "couldn't wake him up!" and "he wasn't moving!" The driver yelled twice for the child, to no avail. Tara, relying on her training as an emergency room nurse, realized that there could be any number of scenarios that would cause her child to be unresponsive. Could it be a seizure, is he choking, is his blood sugar low and he passed out? The potential problems raced through her mind. After all, the child had an individual education plan (IEP) for speech and language deficits. There was a history of hypoglycemia and diabetes in the family, but Xander never had any problems...or did he? As she raced through the open bus door and onto the bus her mind raced. On April 2, 2011, the PA State Police reversed course and filed a criminal complaint against Tara Keener. The charge- Unlawful Entry onto a School Bus, a misdemeanor of the third degree, punishable by up to one (1) year in jail and a $2,500 fine. The registered nurse was now an accused criminal. She had to report to the Newport State Police barracks for fingerprinting and a mug shot. Her name appeared in the 'In Brief' section of the newspaper. She had to tell her employer about the incident, as was the employer's internal policy. If she didn't and they found out, she would be terminated. Her character and good name was now tarnished. How we used the media to solve this case This case was a shock to the local community. An emergency room nurse charged with trying to help her own son? I received a flurry of letters in my office supporting Tara. I spoke to the District Attorney about dropping the case without success. He was intransigent. I decided to try the case in the Court of Public Opinion instead. If the District Attorney was refusing to listen to sound reason from me, perhaps he'd be willing to listen to others in the community, like the ones that were writing to me on a daily basis. We leaked the story to a local newspaper. The Patriot News reported on the incident in July 2011. The story garnered front page coverage on July 26 and July 28, 2011. 'Pennlive,' a local blogsite for the Patriot News, had over 170 comments and 700 'Facebook' hits because of the story in one day. Local TV news outlets also picked up the story. ABC news 27, Fox news 43, and CBS news 21 all interviewed Tara at my office. This case was a real 'head scratcher.' We contacted national media outlets as well. There was interest from the folks at the 'Today Show,' 'Fox N Friends' and MSNBC. The story hit the national scene on Wednesday, July 27 on 'Fox N Friends' during their morning news segment. By 12:57 p.m. that same day, the District Attorney had filed an application with the court for a nolle prosequi (a request to drop the charge). We went on national TV live on the morning of July 28, 2011 at 8:15 am and reported on 'Fox N Friends' that the District Attorney had now reversed course, once again. He was dropping the charges.

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