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Bus Attack: Hundreds of Students’ Day Delayed By Vandalism at Transportation Depot

| September 16, 2011

Two dozen buses at the school district's west-end depot were grounded this morning after being targeted by a drunk vandal. (© FlaglerLive)

Hundreds of Flagler County school district students’ arrival to class was delayed today as some 21 school buses at the district’s west-end depot on U.S. 1 were the target of serial vandalism, allegedly by a quite drunk 26-year-old woman who took her time breaking into buses and damaging property.

One thing worried transportation officials particularly: the woman allegedly removed the radiator caps on several buses, opening the possibility of foul play with the radiators–the dropping of sand or sugar or other damaging substances. Most of the buses were not sent on their morning runs, sending drivers scrambling for alternative buses at the district’s main depot.

“Some of the buses were late this morning,” Jan Pannullo, the transportation department’s safety specialist, said, though in early afternoon the department didn’t yet know clearly to what extent delays affected children. The affected buses transport elementary, middle and high school students. “Some of them might not have been late at all,” Pannullo said.

Some 700 students were on the late buses. But the lateness did not affect actual classes: they were late for breakfast, but all the buses managed to get to the high school in time for the first bell at 8 a.m. with one exception, a bus with about 28 students, which arrived just after the first bell, Pannullo said.

Rachael Mitrosky

For the afternoon run home, there are no expected delays, Pannullo said. She hadn’t yet confirmed whether every bus at the affected depot had been cleared to make its run. But if not, there were enough spare buses lined up to ensure a smoother afternoon run. Just after noon at the depot, the buses were all lined up in their parking spots. The depot was quiet.

The suspect, Rachael Mitroski, who’s now at the Flagler County jail, drove her 2005 red Pontiac into the bus depot (at the intersection of U.S 1 and Royal Palm Parkway at the southwestern edge of Palm Coast), parked her car behind the garage, and, according to a police report and video surveillance from the scene, went from bus to bus, opening various compartments and electrical panels. She removed 15 radiator caps in all.

Dip sticks were also removed, so were emergency triangles (the reflectors placed emergency scenes as reflectors), some of which, strangely, were placed in front of buses as if to signal that they were disabled. Some were broken. Brooms were found on the roof of buses. Trash cans were dumped. Emergency doors and windows were opened. The buses’ batteries were loosened from their sockets.

Several semi trucks that belong to the district’s adult education program are also parked at the depot. One of them was broken into, or entered, and attempts were made to remove the radio. The attempts were not successful. On the ground near the garage, workers found a blue umbrella with loose change in it, and an empty bottle of liquor.

Normally, the buses are all out of the depot by 7:30 a.m. Not this morning, as they were worked on most of the morning to ensure that they’d be in condition to be used later.

When she was found out, Mitroski was reportedly heavily intoxicated. She asked some of the bus drivers for a ride in their car.

A Bunnell Police Department officer responded to the scene at 5:45 this morning. Mitroski faces a criminal mischief charge for causing damage of more than $200 (but less than $1,000). She’s being held on $500 bond. Pannullo said she was not employed by the transportation department.

Mitroski’s arrest report lists her address as 3791 Winterhawk Ct. in St. Augustine. She is also listed as unemployed in her jail log.

For the school transportation department, this morning’s vandalism was another unfortunate incident that compounds a back-to-school period wracked by parents’ complaints because of overcrowded buses and altered routes designed to save money. Those issues have since been worked out. The vandalism was out of the district’s control (though it’s not clear how the suspect drove into the depot during the night through a gate that’s normally locked), but at many bus stops this morning, it looked like one more inexplicable delay, again placing transportation officials on the defensive.

The district might have lessened anger and criticism, and relieving pressure on the transportation department, by posting an explanatory notice about the vandalism on its website. It did not do so.

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17 Responses for “Bus Attack: Hundreds of Students’ Day Delayed By Vandalism at Transportation Depot”

  1. Charles Ericksen, Jr says:

    She looks like someone , who was arrested for other charges, a few weeks ago. I wonder why , with this location being out of sight from the main road ( Route 1), that they do not have cameras like Palm Coast has at the Rymfire park location, where a deputy can call the camera up, and see the location from any place on his patrol? Just a thought….

  2. The Truth says:

    Charles Ericksen: Isn’t the bus depot on SR100 next to FPC?

    • FlaglerLive says:

      The main depot is behind the high school. The other is off of US1. Mr. Ericksen, the sheriff’s office has not had access to the cameras at Ralph Carter Park. The cameras and the databases are controlled by Palm Coast administration–something the sheriff isn’t thrilled about, for good reason.

  3. Joe says:

    Good job Fleet services, another job well done, to be able to have your guys check out those 12 buses and only 1 drop the kids off after their bell is an amazing feat, again, Kudos to you Dennis and your mechanics!!!

  4. t-bird says:

    Thank goodness this wacko was caught. She needs to be punished and I don’t mean by sitting in jail. She needs to be shamed. Make her stand on the corner and wear a sign saying I am the person that vandalized the school buses, or make her wash the buses for a month. I am sure someone on Flagler Live can think of a proper punishment. Since she is unemployed I doubt that she will pay restitution.

  5. Charles Ericksen, Jr says:

    Thanks FLAGLERLIVE , I thought the remote control of the cameras from the cruisers was a selling point on the camera costs, allowing for quick response ? The camera at the park is on the pole atop the building rendering it useless when activities are going on right below. I like the idea of washing the buses..

  6. Elana Lee says:

    This is bizarre behavior for an adult female. While it’s never acceptable to damage other people’s property, this incident strikes me as particularly odd. A misguided cry for help, perhaps?

  7. Ben Rimpf says:

    Kudos to Elana. Mental illness is the likely culprit, so it is doubtful she or society would benefit from being shamed as t-bird suggested.

  8. The Heathen says:

    I like how the article says that “Those issues have since been worked out.” That is simply not true. I see many incidents with students still being shuffled from bus to bus and route to route. Someone has passed on misinformation.

  9. confused says:

    elana i find your statement to be sexist….. what you are saying is this is normal behavior for an adult male?–but abnormal for an adult female?

  10. Elana Lee says:

    Confused: Sorry for the confusion caused by the wording of my statement. While there’s no absolutes, generally speaking, vandalizing automobiles (especially school buses) tends to be more commonly a juvenile-type crime. The act that was committed was not “normal” or acceptable, regardless of gender or age. I’d be willing to guess this woman does not simply hate school buses.

  11. Ken Dodge says:

    This vandalism occurred at the same property from which the movie trailer was stolen before the summer. It’s one thing to close the barn door after the horse escapes, but to not close the barn door at all causes concern about the school district’s comprehension of the basics of security.

  12. Diamond says:

    She had an episode due to lack of sleep i know her she is a good friend of mine she isn’t a bad person

  13. Tesla says:

    You’re right on Diamond and Elena. I know her too. She needs help not humiliation.

  14. Saiju says:

    She is a good friend of mine. She is energetic, witty, talented and overall fun to be around. What she needs is help and especially medical help. Being bipolar is horrible and should be seen with compassion. She is young and trying to get her life in order. Putting her in jail is not the right thing to do. Hope she gets the help that she needs and not punishment.

  15. Isaac says:

    I would like to second what Saiju posted here and add a few words of my own. I’ve known Rachel for years now, and she is an intelligent and caring person, and this is not like her at all. She in need of support to get through this time in her life. Elana, Ben, thank you for showing some compassion and understanding – I hope we can all learn to do the same.

  16. Virginia Bloise says:

    Rachel Mitrosky is my sister. She was diagnosed with bi-polar. She was not intoxicated when this happened, she was not of sound mind. She is an intelligent and loving person full of potential. She is now being treated for her mental condition. She is making a lot of progress. I love my sister and am supportive of her getting well and for her not being punished for being ill.

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