TBTA, families reach deal in suit over bus assaults

ALPENA — There is an “agreement in principle” between a group of families and the Thunder Bay Transportation Authority in a lawsuit over TBTA’s handling of a former bus assistant convicted in 2016 of sexually assaulting multiple children over a two-year span.

The suit stems from assaults committed in 2014 and 2015 by Andrew Bartz, a bus aide who worked on TBTA buses for a TBTA contractor, Prell’s Services. At the time, TBTA transported students for Pied Piper School.

Attorney Joseph Lucas, who represents the families, said Tuesday that, though there is an agreement in principle, the settlement amount cannot be disclosed. Lucas said mediation occurred to allow both parties to agree on a settlement amount.

TBTA board President Sheila Phillips and board Vice President Adam Poll said Tuesday they have been told that they could not speak publicly about the class-action lawsuit.

Lucas said a judge has to approve the settlement amount, which could take place as early as February.

“We had a conference call recently to understand the settlement amount,” Lucas said.

Bartz and Prell’s also were sued, but it isn’t clear if they are part of agreement in principle.

Lucas said the families will also have time to object to the settlement amount. If the families don’t object, a third party will distribute the settlement to each family. Lucas said that could take place by the end of February.

Lucas said that, after the amount is distributed, the court has to oversee how the money is spent by each family.

Bartz was hired as a bus assistant through Prell’s, TBTA’s third-party contractor. The complaint claims that no background check was done on Bartz prior to his employment and that, had one been performed, the check would have revealed that Bartz had previously been investigated for improper sexual conduct with a minor.

The complaint also stated that parents of students riding the buses had told the defendants of the abuse, but the defendants failed to take action and that security cameras on the buses were not working and the defendants made no effort to fix the cameras. The complaint went on to say that TBTA and Prell’s officials ignored a policy of reviewing tapes.

If they had reviewed the footage, they would have seen the alleged abuse, the suit claims.

Bartz was sentenced to 20 to 30 years on three first-degree criminal sexual conduct charges and 10 to 15 years on a second-degree criminal sexual conduct charges..

The Alpena-Montmorency-Alcona Educational Service District, which serves special-needs children through Pied Piper, had contracted with the TBTA for bus services at the time. That contract ended in May and a new contract with Lansing-based Dean Transportation took effect in August.

The AMA ESD is not listed as a defendant in the case.

Julie Goldberg can be reached at 989-358-5688 or jgoldberg@thealpenanews.com. Follow her on Twitter @jkgoldberg12.