Metro-East News

Former bus driver accused of sexually assaulting elderly passenger

A former bus driver for a service that provides rides for the elderly and people with disabilities in St. Clair County has been charged with sex crimes that allegedly involve a patron of the bus system.

Paul S. Rongey Jr., 65, of Belleville has been charged with three felonies. He is accused of sexually assaulting a 75-year-old woman has dementia in April.

Police say Rongey was an employee of Alternative Transportation System at the time of the alleged incident. Rongey was officially charged Tuesday in St. Clair County Circuit Court with two counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault and one count of public contractor misconduct. Bail was set at $100,000. According to the St. Clair County Jail, Rongey was not in custody Wednesday night. According to the St. Clair Circuit Clerk’s website, there are pending grand jury actions set in the case.

Swansea Police Chief Steve Johnson said the woman reported to her family that she had been sexually assaulted by a bus driver. The 75-year-old woman has dementia. Johnson said the woman used ATS to get a ride from O’Fallon to an adult day care in Belleville. Johnson said that while en route to the woman’s destination, Rongey stopped the bus in a gravel lot on Sullivan Drive near Llewelyn Drive in Swansea and forced the woman to have sex.

The woman said she was assaulted late in the morning April 12. Johnson said Rongey dropped the woman off at her destination. After the woman made the report, she was taken to an area hospital, where a sexual assault kit was completed.

Swansea Detective Dan Lipe investigated the report and received full cooperation from ATS. Johnson said ATS has a GPS system on its buses. Rongey was suspended from driving for the service, Johnson said.

Johnson said forensic scientists from the Illinois State Police Crime Lab tested evidence that was submitted in the case. A search warrant for a DNA sample from Rongey was issued by the St. Clair County State’s Attorney’s Office. Evidence from that search warrant was submitted to the state crime lab. Johnson said results from those tests were received Nov. 28.

“This is a sad case all the way around,” Johnson said in a news release. “Due to the mental state of the victim, our detective had to corroborate the statement by forensic science, which takes some time. Technology in place by ATS and ATS personnel significantly aided in the investigation. Our elderly population need to be taken care of and not be in fear of this type of heinous criminal activity.”

Attempts to reach ATS management were unsuccessful Wednesday afternoon. According to its website, ATS is a curb-to-curb community service for individuals certified as American with Disabilities Act eligible and for those 60 and older in some areas. The cost to use the service is $4 per trip, and reservations must be made in advance.

ATS service is available for ADA riders in Belleville, Canteen, Caseyville, Centreville, East St. Louis, Engelmann, Lebanon, Masoutah, O’Fallon, St. Clair, Shiloh Valley, Smithton, Stites and Stookey. Elderly service is available in Belleville, St. Clair, Stookey, Shiloh and Swansea.

If convicted of the aggravated criminal sexual assault charges, Rongey faces up to 30 years in prison for the Class X felonies. According to the St. Clair County Circuit Clerk’s website, Rongey has no previous felony convictions, and his most serious offenses are traffic offenses.

Don O’Brien: 618-239-2626, @DOBrienBND