Santos Popoca-Mendez, 44, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, (inset) was arrested during a traffic stop in North Barrington early Thursday morning while transporting dozens of students to Wauconda Middle School. | Background Photo: Google Street View; Inset: Provided

The school district and a field trip company have issued statements after an unlicensed bus driver was arrested when police stopped the bus as it was traveling to a Wauconda school with 50 children onboard.

A Lake County sheriff’s deputy was on patrol around 12:05 a.m. Thursday in the area of northbound Route 12 near Valentine Court in North Barrington.

The deputy observed a 2005 MCI transit bus commit an improper lane usage violation, according to Lake County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Ari Briskman.

The sheriff’s deputy learned the registration plates were expired after checking the vehicle’s registration.

It was also learned the bus had not been issued an Interstate Fuel Tax Act sticker, which is required for a commercial motor vehicle, Briskman said.

The sheriff’s deputy conducted a traffic stop and learned the driver, Santos Popoca-Mendez, 44, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, did not have a valid commercial driver’s license.

He also did not even have a regular driver’s license, Briskman said.

The sheriff’s deputy found there were approximately 50 juveniles onboard the bus, which was traveling from O’Hare International Airport to Wauconda Middle School.

The children were on their way back from a field trip to Washington D.C.

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Popoca-Mendez was placed under arrest for driving without a valid driver’s license.

Briskman said an employee of a local towing agency who has the necessary commercial driver’s license drove the bus from the traffic stop location to Wauconda Middle School without incident.

The children were then released to their guardians.

The sheriff’s deputy who initiated the traffic stop is a commercial motor vehicle enforcement officer and he weighed the bus at Wauconda Middle School using portable scales, Briskman said.

The bus was found to be overweight for its registration.

Sheriff’s deputies spoke with the owner of the bus company, M & M Tours, LLC in Milwaukee, regarding the incident.

Popoca-Mendez was transported to the Lake County Jail and charged with driving without a valid commercial driver’s license, improper lane usage, driving without an Interstate Fuel Tax Act sticker and overweight on registration.

Popca-Mendez was released with a notice to appear in court on May 20.

Briskman said the investigation is ongoing and additional charges are possible.

District 118 administration said in a message to parents that the driver arrested was not a District 118 employee and was contracted by School Tours of America.

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“While this was not a District 118 school-sponsored event, the safety and well-being of our students is our top priority. District 118 is disappointed in the lack of oversight by the contracted companies and will be investigating further what we can do under our control to ensure that an incident such as this never happens again,” the administration said.

Wauconda Middle School teacher Amy Robb said in a separate message to parents that the incident was “unique and out of our hands.”

Robb said the children were safe at all times throughout the trip and on the bus.

“They were with 5 MAMA BEAR chaperones. We were extremely vigilant and had their safety first and foremost in our minds,” Robb said.

Robb also said they “do not have answers to some of the questions that have been asked” and “may never get some of those answered.”

“In the end, please know that your children were safe, and we hope that they had experiences that one day they will look back on and laugh about, remember, and even tell their children,” she added.

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After Lake and McHenry County Scanner first published a story on the incident, School Tours of America sent a message to parents of children who were on the bus.

The company called Lake and McHenry County Scanner’s report “unofficial information” and an “unofficial source,” saying that unofficial sources “may not always have accurate details” despite the information being sourced directly from the sheriff’s office.

School Tours of America said they spoke with the sheriff’s office and the sheriff’s office has not provided them with any information yet.

The company said they have ceased operations with Olson Transportation due to the incident.

Olson was the company they contracted to charter the students from the airport to school.

Olson subcontracted with M&M Tours without informing School Tours of America, the company said.

“The safety of our travelers is our number one priority, and we will not allow the safety of our students to be compromised. Unfortunately, the information we have is limited until our investigation is completed,” School Tours of America said.