Brown City reacts to criminal charges against ex-school bus driver

Published: Feb. 20, 2020 at 5:09 PM EST
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A small mid-Michigan town is stunned to hear a former school bus driver is accused of reckless driving and inappropriately touching a child.

The 53-year old man resigned his job as a Brown City school bus driver in November, and yesterday he was arrested.

James Burke, who everyone knows in town as Kevin Burke, is accused of driving a Brown City school bus with an eight-year old girl on his lap at times.

"This is surprising, as soon as everyone finds out, because everyone knows Kevin Burke around here," says Brown City resident Jesse Knox.

Brown City, population of about 13 hundred, sits mainly in Sanilac County and pretty much everyone we talked with in town is shocked that Kevin Burke faces four counts of reckless driving and one count of disorderly obscene conduct.

The Michigan State Police began an investigation in November following a complaint that Burke was letting an eight-year old girl sit on his lap at times while he drove the bus and inappropriately touched the child once.

School superintendent Neil Kohler says Burke was put on administrative leave as soon as the allegations were made in November and Burke resigned three days later.

Burke had been driving Brown City school buses since 2011. Knox lives just outside of town.

"If you are going to be a bus driver, don't they have to go through a background check and all this to make sure this doesn't happen on our buses, he says.

Amy Nielsen says Burke is heavily involved in the community, organizing fundraisers, and doesn't believe he committed the alleged crimes.

"I know he has worked for the school for many years, and I never heard anything bad before," she says.

I could not reach Burke for comment and court papers indicate he does not have an attorney at this time.

Knox, like others in town, says he will let the case move through the court before casting judgement.

"Now his attorney is going to have to see if he did it or didn't do it," he says.

Burke was released on a personal recognizance bond and his next court date is set for next month.

Sanilac County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Brenda Sanford explained the disorderly obscene conduct charge, saying, "We reviewed the videos and observed the driver operating the bus down the road with the child at various times to be in his lap, laying across his lap, and sometimes touching the steering wheel.

We believe these incidents to be reckless driving. And although we found nothing that rose to a criminal sexual conduct charge, we found the conduct to be inappropriate. Therefore, we issued a disorderly person charge."