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A passenger boards one of the shuttle buses that run between the four main U.S. installations in Stuttgart, Germany. A bus driver recently was suspended for straying from his route with two teens aboard. The parents say the punishment was not severe enough.

A passenger boards one of the shuttle buses that run between the four main U.S. installations in Stuttgart, Germany. A bus driver recently was suspended for straying from his route with two teens aboard. The parents say the punishment was not severe enough. (Charlie Coon / S&S)

STUTTGART, Germany — The parents of two teens are baffled that a bus driver received only a two-week suspension for driving their sons to his mother’s house and allegedly locking them in the bus while tending to personal business inside.

The suspension, announced in the May 18 edition of the U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart base newspaper, The Citizen, came as a surprise to the boys’ mothers, who thought the shuttle-bus driver was going to be fired.

The two mothers and their sons filed reports with military police the day after the Feb. 21 “kidnapping,” as they called it.

After hearing nothing back from garrison authorities for three months, one of the mothers was surprised to read about the suspension in the story headlined, “Poor judgment call creates confusion for youth on shuttle bus.”

“‘Confusion?’” asked Katherine Gaucher, mother of one of the boys, Benjamin, 13. “How about ‘terror?’ ‘Fear?’

“It made me feel almost insulted.”

“They (boys) were frantic, scared, hysterical — and I was upset,” said Silke Pinkard, who received a cell phone call from her son, Jordan, 14, while the boys were on the bus. “I was trying to figure out where they were so I could come get them.”

It turned out the boys were in Kornwestheim, a city several miles past Robinson Barracks, where the bus driver, whom the garrison would not name, was supposed to be taking them. The boys said they were locked in the bus for five to 10 minutes, according to Gaucher.

After returning to the bus from the house, the driver took the cell phone from Pinkard’s son and told Silke Pinkard he had had to drop off some keys for his mother, Silke Pinkard said.

The boys were eventually driven to Robinson Barracks, from where Benjamin walked home.

“He got home 1½ hours later than he should have been,” his mother said.

The base newspaper says the driver had received a frantic cell phone call from his 74-year-old mother, and that the driver took only a short detour.

The boys said after they noticed the bus was off course, the driver made them sit in the front of the bus and told them to record him with their cell phones as he drove erratically, beeping the horn.

On Tuesday, passengers praised the bus service, which shuttles passengers between Stuttgart’s four installations, but said they found the driver’s punishment lacking.

“I’m surprised he was not taken up on charges,” said Army Sgt. Mark Sauve of Special Operation Command Europe.

“I’d be scared, too, if I was 13 and taken to some weird place on a bus and they don’t tell me where I’m going,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. LaToya Miller of U.S. European Command.

“Two weeks? That’s it?” said Amber Olsen, the mother of a 10-year-old.

The garrison public affairs office in an e-mailed response to Stars and Stripes said the incident was investigated by five garrison units, though the parents said they were never contacted, except by family advocates, after filing the initial police report.

The investigation concluded that the driver had not committed a criminal offense but only deviated from his route “without appropriate cause.”

The driver, whom the garrison said had an “exemplary” work record, also had a letter of admonition placed in his personnel record.

The garrison stated in its e-mailed response that the driver received “appropriate punishment,” but did not state when the driver was suspended. Gaucher said her son was scared when he boarded a shuttle bus over Easter break only to find the same driver behind the wheel.

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