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Arntzen cited for illegally passing school bus

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Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen has been cited for allegedly driving past a school bus that was picking up children with its red lights flashing and stop arm down, Helena police said. 

The investigating officer met with Arntzen Thursday evening and determined there was probable cause to charge her with violating Montana Code Annotated 61-8-351 (meeting or passing a school bus), the Helena Police Department said in a statement issued Friday. She was issued a citation and referred to Helena Municipal Court. 

According to a call for service filed with the Helena Police Department, the bus driver reported that he was loading children onto the bus at Alice Street and Alexis Avenue in Helena's Mountain View Meadows subdivision at 7:37 a.m. May 19 when a red Chevrolet Colorado drove by. The bus driver reported Arntzen as the driver of the truck.

Helena police said they were able to meet with witnesses and gather video surveillance from the incident. 

Arntzen acknowledged that she drives a red pickup and lives in the area but has no recollection of the incident, her Communications Director Brian O'Leary said.

“We were informed that a citation would be issued, even though we have not been able to view the video in question. We were also informed that the video does not show the license plate of the vehicle involved,” O'Leary said in a statement issued Friday. “That being said, Superintendent Arntzen would like to thank the bus driver for his vigilance. This is a good reminder for all of us to slow down from life’s daily distractions, and to pay extra careful attention, especially as we enter the busy summer season.”

Per Montana law, a driver approaching a school bus that has engaged its red flashing lights must stop at least 30 feet away. 

The Associated Press reported that Arntzen testified in favor of a bill passed by the 2021 Legislature to improve bus safety, including doubling the fine for illegally passing a school bus to a maximum of $1,000.

Editor Jesse Chaney can be reached at 406-447-4074, or find him on Twitter: @IR_JesseChaney. 

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