RFTA driver fired for not reporting felony
August 7, 2009
ASPEN – A local bus driver has been fired for failing to note on his employment application that he had a felony conviction.
The termination of Roaring Fork Transportation Authority driver Richard Dale Langston, 45, of Carbondale came after he was cited Sunday for reckless driving and a misdemeanor charge of third-degree assault. Aspen police said Langston intentionally swerved into a bicyclist near the bus stop at Highway 82 and 8th Street.
Langston was initially suspended with pay after the alleged incident, according to an e-mail RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship sent to his board of directors. But a Tuesday report in The Aspen Times about the alleged altercation also noted that Langston was convicted of second-degree felony assault in 1991 for trying to electrocute his boss. He was sentenced to six months in the King County Jail in Seattle.
RFTA officials were not aware of the felony because the state of Washington’s Fair Credit Reporting Act prohibits the disclosure of convictions older than seven years, Blankenship said in the e-mail.
“RFTA was not in a position to know about this charge or conviction because of the mandates of Washington State law and not because RFTA failed to conduct a background check. The first background check occurred when he was initially hired in November 2007, although it did not include a review of Washington State’s criminal records.
“The second check occurred when he was rehired as a seasonal driver in May of this year.”
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The most recent background check, Blankenship wrote, also looked at Langston’s history in Washington.
“Consequently, even if the first background check would have included Washington, it would not have reported this conviction because it occurred 16 years prior to 2007,” Blankenship wrote.
In an interview Thursday, Blankenship said that because the conviction was from the early ’90s, Langston might have been hired.
“In our society we have to be willing to give people a second chance,” Blankenship said. “If we can’t, the people feel unwanted by society, and perhaps they will never be rehabilitated.”
When RFTA conducts background checks on its drivers, “we try to look at the entire record to see if there are patterns,” Blankenship said.
“Having a felony doesn’t preclude somebody from getting a job.”
But Langston’s failure to disclose it on his employment application prompted RFTA to fire him.
Aspen resident Ward Hauenstein, the cyclist who was allegedly hit by Langston, said he felt fortunate to emerge with just minor scrapes.
“I’m fine,” he said. “Luckily, I didn’t go down.”
In fact, after the incident, which occurred around 4:35 p.m., Hauenstein, 57, rode to the Maroon Bells.
The incident was triggered, Hauenstein recalled in an e-mail, when he yelled “learn how to drive” at Langston, after he apparently forced the bus into oncoming, westbound traffic.
“I may have forgotten but my verbal admonishment to the quality of his driving was what probably solicited the reaction,” Hauenstein said. “I do recall thinking that he came very close to me with his side-view mirror, and as he swerved into me and caused the bus to scrape against me I was in survival mode.”
Hauenstein said he was hit twice by the bus.
“I remember thinking that if I was not able to create some space between me and the bus by the time he cleared me, I was probably going to go down. I had to take my left hand off the bars and push off the bus. That is what saved serious injury. I did wake up several times Sunday night with the sight of a RFTA bus inches away from my face.”
After riding to the Bells, Hauenstein said he went to Rubey Park, RFTA’s bus station in downtown Aspen, to report the incident. When he arrived there, he learned that someone else had reported the driver to police.
Hauenstein said he was “shocked to learn of the driver’s past.”
According to an April 16, 1991, report in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Langston said he did not try to electrocute his supervisor. Instead, he told a judge, it was a practical joke. He was initially charged with attempted first-degree murder, after he attached a 120-volt wire to a cyclone fence at a school where Langston was a custodian. His supervisor touched the fence, but was not seriously hurt, the Seattle newspaper reported. Langston was 27 years old at the time of the incident. Prosecutors claimed he tried to electrocute his supervisor for giving him a poor job-performance evaluation.
“He paid his debt to society before, and he is paying the price now,” Blankenship said. “Maybe he shouldn’t be driving a public transportation bus. But we don’t have any hard feelings. It’s tough out there. There are a lot of pressures that go with the job.”
Langston’s telephone number is not listed, and he could not be reached to comment for this story. He is scheduled to appear in court Sept. 22.