On September 17, 2007 Gary Iarocci was arrested for drunk driving by the New Rochelle Police Department. He was convicted of Operating a Motor Vehicle While Intoxicated First Offense on November 9, 2007. He was held overnight after his arrest, paid a $500 fine and given a Conditional Discharge. Iarocci has since passed away.
Iarocci was fired from his position as a Motor Equipment Operator with the New Rochelle Board of Education. Ironically, his replacement, James Vincent Bonanno had been convicted on an identical drunk driving charge two years earlier.
After Iarocci was fired, the position of Motor Equipment Operator (Grade 8) was posted by the New Rochelle Civil Service as a promotional position within the New Rochelle Board of Education. The deadline for applications for the promotional position of Motor Equipment Operator (Grade 8) was February 25, 2008.
A review of New Rochelle Civil Service records obtained under a Freedom of Information Law request shows that three district employees applied for the position. Two of them had clean records and positive job performance reviews. The third was James Vincent Bonanno, aka "Little Jimmy". Little Jimmy is a heroin addict, a participant in the Westchester County Methadone Maintenance Program and a convicted drunk driver. In fact, he was convicted on drunk driving charges two years prior to applying for the position of Motor Equipment Operator.
There were three requirements for the posted position: (1) graduation from 8th grade; (2) one year operating some kind of truck; and (3) possession of a CDL license. The document inaccurately described the requirement as a "Chauffer's License", labeling that as a CDL. Talk of the Sound confirmed with the New Rochelle Civil Service Commission that CDL refers to "Commercial Drivers License" and that the job posting document used the term "Chauffer's License" in error.
The other applicants met the minimum requirements. James Vincent Bonanno did not.
The information provided on a job application form submitted and signed by Bonanno does not indicate that he had the required one year experience operating a truck.
Many have wondered why the school district would fire a driver after an off-duty drunk driving arrest and then hire another driver with a similar arrest who did not even meet the already low minimum requirements for the position.
In 2011, a complaint was filed with the New Rochelle Board of Education in 2011 alleging that the hiring process was unfair. In response, Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak stated that he had investigated the matter and found "no evidence of any discrimination, prejudice or bias in the consideration and selection of the candidates for the position." Organisciak added that "all required Civil Service guidelines were followed including the review of candidates work histories" and closed by claiming that the "appropriate selection" was made.
Despite Organisciak's claims, the question remains as to why the New Rochelle Board of Education would prefer to hire an unqualified candidate, known to be a habitual narcotics user with an arrest and conviction for drunk driving over two qualified candidates with no prior history of habitual narcotics use or drunk driving convictions for a job driving a van.
For most, the answer is simple: James Vincent Bonanno is the son of Vincent James Bonanno, a supervisor in the Buildings and Grounds Department at the New Rochelle Board of Education.
There are also questions about Bonanno's Commercial Driver's License (CDL) license.
Nicholas Cantiello, a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, told Talk of the Sound that Bonanno was issued a Class B Commercial Drivers License in 2002 but does not have 19-A status which would allow him to drive a school bus. More on that last point later.
Cantiello states that Bonanno was charged with driving while impaired in May, 2005. Police records indicate that Bonanno was arrested on April 9, 2005 and convicted of Operating a Motor Vehicle While Intoxicated First Offense on April 15, 2005. He paid a fine of $300 and his license was suspended for 90 days.
According to Cantiello, Bonanno participated in the Drinking Driver Program from mid-July until mid-September of that year. His CDL license was restored on September 15, 2005 after completing the program, paying his fines and passing a Driver Responsibility Assessment.
The Bonanno drunk driving case was sealed by a New Rochelle judge but Talk of the Sound has learned that Bonanno had a .11 Blood Alcohol Content at the time of his arrest, well over the legal limit of .07 for a regular drivers license.
The Commercial Drivers License is a federal program through the Department of Transportation in Washington, DC but administered at the state level which issues the actual CDL licenses. The federal program sets minimum standards which the states may choose to exceed.
For a CDL license the legal limit is .04. Bonanno blew a BAC almost 3 times the legal limit for a CDL license holder based on DOT minimums.
Shashunga Clayton, Public Affairs Specialist of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration at the federal Department of Transportation told to Talk of the Sound that Bonanno's conviction on drunk driving charges would constitute a "major" violation.
Clayton confirmed that major violations include operating a motor vehicle while being under the influence of alcohol as prescribed by State law. It is evident that Mr. Bonanno's conviction in 2005 would qualify as a "Major" violation. Again, he had a BAC of .11. Well over the .08 for a DWI and way, way over the .04 level established by the USDOT for CDL drivers.
Clayton also confirmed that disqualification for a first violation for a Major Violation, whether driving a commercial vehicle or a noncommercial vehicle would be a 1-year disqualification (or a 3-year disqualification if transporting hazardous materials). The second violation for a Major Violation, whether driving a commercial vehicle or a noncommercial vehicle, results in a lifetime disqualification although a driver may be eligible for reinstatement under certain conditions after 10 years.
Based on this information, it would appear that Bonanno should have lost his CDL and been disqualified for 1 year. Instead, his license was restored after just 90 days and the case sealed.
Beyond the questions about how he got his CDL license back after just 90 days is the issue of Bonanno's habitual use of narcotics.
In New York State the mere presence of methadone in the blood stream is not enough to convict a driver of a DUI/DWI. However, there appears to be a minimum requirement in all states from the USDOT that would prohibit a methadone user from both obtaining a Commercial Drivers License (CDL) and operating a Commercial vehicle (CVL).
Mr. Cantiello was asked about whether the federal medical requirements for a CDL applied in the New York State CDL program but declined to answer despite repeated requests over a period of months.
Federal form USDOT 649-F (6045), Medical Examination Report FOR COMMERCIAL DRIVER FITNESS DETERMINATION, asks "YES/NO Narcotic or habit forming drug use."
The form then states:
> For any YES answer, indicate onset date, diagnosis, treating physician's name and address, and any current limitation. List all medications (including over-the-counter medications) used regularly or recently.
> Medical Examiner's Comments on Health History (The medical examiner must review and discuss with the driver any "yes" answers and potential hazards of medications, including over-the-counter medications, while driving. This discussion must be documented below. )
> Urinalysis is required.
The form also requires the applicant to certify that the above information is complete and true and inaccurate, false or missing information may invalidate the examination and my Medical Examiner's Certificate.
Reading this, it would appear that a heroin addict who enters a methadone maintenance program and thus is a habitual user of narcotics can not obtain and/or retain a CDL or operate a CVL.
Page 4 of the form is "49 CFR 391.41 Physical Qualifications for Drivers" and includes a paragraph which reads:
§391.41 PHYSICAL QUALIFICATIONS FOR DRIVERS (a) A person shall not drive a commercial motor vehicle unless he is physically qualified to do so and, except as provided in §391.67, has on his person the original, or a photographic copy, of a medical examiner's certificate that he is physically qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle.
It then explains the qualifications including this: (12)(i) Does not use any drug or substance identified in 21 CFR 1308.11 Schedule I, an amphetamine, a narcotic, or other habit-forming drug." The list identified in 21 CFR 1308.11 includes Opiates/(15) Methadone 9250
The last several pages are "INSTRUCTIONS TO THE MEDICAL EXAMINER" and includes this paragraph:
Drug Use §391.41(b)(12) A person is physically qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle if that person does not use any drug or substance identified in 21 CFR 1308.11, an amphetamine, a narcotic, or other habit-forming drug. A driver may use a non-Schedule I drug or substance that is identified in the other Schedules in 21 part 1308 if the substance or drug is prescribed by a licensed medical practitioner who: (A) is familiar with the driver’s medical history, and assigned duties; and (B) has advised the driver that the prescribed substance or drug will not adversely affect the driver’s ability to safely operate a commercial motor vehicle. This exception does not apply to methadone. The intent of the medical certification process is to medically evaluate a driver to ensure that the driver has no medical condition which interferes with the safe performance of driving tasks on a public road. If a driver uses an amphetamine, a narcotic or any other habit-forming drug, it may be cause for the driver to be found medically unqualified. If a driver uses a Schedule I drug or substance, it will be cause for the driver to be found medically unqualified.
This appears to clearly state that a person on methadone is not physically qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle and that they are not eligible to obtain or retain a CDL. §391.41(b)(12) states there are exceptions but notes "This exception does not apply to methadone".
As part of getting a CDL, at least under federal guidelines, it appears that Bonanno would have to submit to a medical examination form and that the form would address habitual narcotics use and, specifically, methadone. As a result of answering truthfully, Bonanno would not be eligible for a CDL under these standards.
Under federal law, a driver with a CDL is required to submit to a medical examination ever two years unless they have an exception. There are two kinds of exceptions (K and 19-A). Bonanno has neither of those two exceptions.
Unless and until the New York State Department of Vehicles comes forward to clarify Bonanno's status, there is no good explanation as to how Bonanno obtained his CDL as a habitual narcotics user, how he got it back so quickly after his drunk driving conviction or how he has managed to maintain it as a methadone user.
Even if there is some logical explanation for how Bonanno was able to obtain and retain his CDL license despite his habitual narcotics use and his drunk driving conviction, there is still no explanation as to how a fair hiring process would have resulted in hiring Bonanno over two qualified candidates with no drunk driving convictions on their record and no history of addiction to heroin or dependency on methadone.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Both Bonannos have filed a lawsuit for defamation against Robert Cox, the Managing Editor of Talk of the Sound and Hudson-Westchester Radio, owners of WVOX-AM 1460. Cox has filed a counter-claim.