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Queens Village students take strange trip

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After taking three autistic children on a bizarre, eight-hour excursion through southeast Queens and Nassau County last week, a school bus driver and the matron responsible for the youngsters were arrested and charged with endangering the welfare of a child, authorities said.

Police said Atlas Buslines driver Alexandre Belvu, 31, of Brooklyn, picked up the three children - a 4-year-old girl and her 3-year-old brother and a 4-year-old boy - early Monday, Jan. 24, at their homes within the confines of the 102nd Precinct, which covers Richmond Hill, Kew Gardens and Woodhaven.

But the driver never took them to school at the Lifeline Center for Child Development, a school for children with severe developmental disabilities, authorities said. The school is on the campus of Creedmoor Psychiatric Hospital in Queens Village.

Atlas Buslines could not be reached for comment. A spokeswoman for the Lifeline Center, Judith Glassman, said the school has had an ongoing problem with the bus company and deferred all comments to the office of City Councilman Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis), who represents Queens Village and has fielded complaints from the school.

Felicia Putter, a spokeswoman for Leffler, said the school had made more than a dozen complaints to the city Department of Transportation since it hired Atlas in September. The DOT is responsible for hiring companies to transport pre-kindergartners to school.

"There were all kinds of problems," she said. "Picking them up late, getting to school so late it was time for them to be picked up."

The children were not physically harmed during the journey but were upset, said Susan Seinfeld, who also works in Leffler's office. All of the children suffered from autism, a developmental disability marked by difficulty with communication and a short attention span.

Belvue picked up the three children at their homes between 7:30 a.m. and 8:15 a.m. Jan. 24, said police spokesman Louis Cruz, but never made it to the school. He delivered them back to their homes after 4:30 p.m., where they were examined by their physicians, Cruz said.

Authorities said Belvu got lost en route to the school and ended up near Rockville Center in Nassau County. The driver called the bus company's headquarters in Long Island City several times from the road, said Putter from Leffler's office, and was told to stay where he was so that a representative could pick him and the children up.

But Seinfeld said the driver did not follow instructions and wandered farther and farther into oblivion.

"Here it is a Queens-based company and he can't even find a place 15 minutes from where he is," Seinfeld said. "It was a nightmare."

According to published reports, Belvu said he was not licensed to drive a bus and was only hired as a matron, but his boss had forced him to pick up the children because there was no one else available.

On Friday, police from the 102nd Precinct arrested Belvu at his 110 Empire Blvd. home in Crown Heights, said Cruz, the police spokesman; Claire Valcourt, 39, a bus company matron who was supervising the children during the entire eight-hour excursion, was arrested the following day at her Brooklyn home and charged with endangering the welfare of a child.

The city had terminated its contract with Atlas by Friday, according to Leffler's office.

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