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Two Harbors bus driver charged with sex assaults

DULUTH - A 62-year-old school bus driver is being held in the St. Louis County Jail after being accused of sexually assaulting four elementary school girls.

The bus driver, of Two Harbors, is being held on preliminary charges of four counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct during his duties as a school bus driver, the St. Louis County Sheriff's Office said. He allegedly sexually assaulted four North Shore Community School students between the ages of 6 and 10. North Shore Community School is a charter school sponsored by Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center, with 261 students in kindergarten through sixth grade, in St. Louis County.

The suspect has been a full-time employee of the Lake Superior School District for the past 38 years. He is the head janitor at Two Harbors High School and a part-time school bus driver. He was placed on administrative leave on March 19.

North Shore Community School is within the Lake Superior school district but is separate. They share bus services.

"I just can't believe it," said Phil Minkkinen, superintendent for the Lake Superior School District.

Minkkinen was preparing for a School Board meeting Thursday night when he met with officers from the Two Harbors Police Department and Lake County Sheriff's Office. Minkkinen said they discussed how to get possible victims to come forward.

Minkkinen was made aware of the allegations in March.

"By all accounts he has been a good employee, and no incidents like this have ever been reported," St. Louis County Sheriff Ross Litman said. "But part of our investigation is to not only investigate these crimes that have been reported to us, but to also reach out to parents and students from the past to see if there have been any other behaviors like this on his part."

The Sheriff's Office, Duluth Township police and the Department of Education began an investigation after several parents reported to the North Shore Community School director on March 19 that their children had reported being sexually assaulted by their school bus driver. Investigators arrested the bus driver Wednesday about 5 p.m.

"It's very unusual for somebody to exhibit this type of behavior and take these kinds of actions just out of the blue," Litman said.

Litman said the schools are mailing letters to parents. "Talk to your child and find out if this bus driver or anybody else has had any contact with your kids who made them uncomfortable or hurtful," he said. "If there are any others we want the parents to call us" at (218) 336-4356.

St. Louis County Attorney Melanie Ford said charges are expected to be filed on Monday.

Matt Suoja of the Lake County News-Chronicle contributed to this report.