A Laurel church bus driver was arrested by Howard County police yesterday, accused of fondling a 10-year-old Columbia girl after dropping off other passengers who attended Sunday school at the Harvester Baptist Church last week.
John Benson Jr., 43, of the 8600 block of Fine Rock Road, Laurel, was being held at police headquarters in Ellicott City last night for questioning. He has been charged with child abuse, assault, battery, third-degree and fourth-degree sex offenses.
County police began their investigation when the girl's mother called police Sunday afternoon after her child told family members what happened. She was not injured, police said.
"We don't know why she was singled out," said Lt. Tim Branning. "We don't know if this was an isolated incident or not."
Mr. Benson headed the church bus ministry, which provides rides for all church-related functions. A married father of three children and a former Marine, Mr. Benson joined the church about 16 years ago, church members said.
The Rev. Ed Simpson, pastor of the Columbia church, would not say if Mr. Benson's responsibilities would be ended.
"We will be sharing together privately as a congregation to work through this difficult time," Mr. Simpson said.
According to police, shortly after 2 p.m. Sunday, the church bus driver transported about 24 children home from Sunday school classes, making stops in neighborhoods in Dorsey's Search area of Columbia.
By about 2:30 p.m., all children had left the bus, except the girl, who was driven back to the church and fondled in the kitchen, police said. Then the man drove the girl home in his car, police said.
Police said the man was questioned by police earlier this week and he turned himself into police about 3:30 p.m. yesterday.
One Harvester Baptist congregation member said the incident came as a total surprise.
"The alleged incident is totally opposite his character," said Bea Hamlin, 53. "He was very concerned about whether they [the children] would go to heaven when they died or not."