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Deadly Accident Prompts Call For Tighter Bus-Driver Screening

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David Soto

David Soto is charged with hitting and killing a woman while driving a coach bus in Streeterville, and seperately with child sex abuse. (Credit: Chicago Police)

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UPDATED 05/06/11 6:21 a.m.

CHICAGO (WBBM/CBS) — The death of a woman who was run over by a bus in Streeterville Tuesday night and the driver’s sex-offender background has prompted a call by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White for tougher federal licensing standards.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Bob Roberts reports

Current federal law bars only those who have committed a felony with a motor vehicle from getting a commercial driver’s license (CDL). The state of Illinois fingerprints and runs background checks on those who want to drive school buses, but not on other CDL applicants, Newsradio Bob Roberts reports.

But in light of information about the criminal background of coach bus driver David Soto, White wants to expand the fingerprinting and background checks to cover all CDL applicants.

White is asking U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to include such checks and testing in the tougher standards governing tour bus drivers and operators that LaHood is sending to Congress.

Soto, 47, was charged yesterday with hitting and killing Justyna Palka, 23, with his coach bus as he turned of Illinois Street and Columbus Drive. Authorities say he was high on cocaine at the time, and he was charged with driving under the influence.

But upon checking his background, police found that Soto was wanted for two sex offenses.

He allegedly sexually molested an 8-year-old girl on Dec. 28, 2008, while she was visiting his house with another girl of the same age who is related to Soto by marriage, Assistant State’s Attorney Kathleen Muldoon said at Soto’s bond hearing Thursday. The girl also said Soto had molested her for a two-year period between 2006 and 2008 when she was 6 and 7, Muldoon said.

Soto’s record includes two prison terms for sex offenses. Illinois Dept. of Corrections records indicate that he was first convicted of attempted rape and aggravated battery in 1982 and sentenced to four years in prison. He was convicted in 1993 of rape, was released from prison in 1997 and was on parole until 2000.

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