RIO RANCHO, NM (KRQE) — Teenagers are terrified of getting back behind the wheel because of their driving instructor. KRQE News 13 learns more about what led a Rio Rancho driving school to lose its license for six months.
Mason Belen, 16, was excited to learn to drive. That quickly changed after he said his driving instructor, Francisco Saenz, was verbally and physically abusive. “It was just a really bad experience. He was yelling at me all the time driving, he was hitting my hands sometimes,” Belen said.
Student and parent complaints to the state Department of Transportation have sparked an investigation into the former Rio Rancho driving school. Belen continues, “He just made it look like I just couldn’t do it. Whenever I felt confident, he would just yell at me.
The department found that Saenz was behaving unethically and endangering student safety. Mason Belen said his first ride with Saenz left him scared and uncomfortable. He decided to record his second session on his phone.
“Already five minutes into the driving time and he’s already yelling at me, he’s yelling at the phone while I’m driving and he’s insulting me. He called me a homophobic insult.
In a January 19 hearing, Saenz said by queer he meant strange. “In any case, calling a student queer for any meaning is inappropriate.” said the Hearing Officer.
Mason’s mother says she was mortified when she heard the recording. “It went beyond just being unpleasant. I really felt like it was abusive and I really felt like it was dangerous,” says Jamie Vachio.
There were several other complaints from parents and students describing similar experiences with Saenz. Vachio warns, “Do diligent research on the school because after the fact we found horrible reviews for this school in the Better Business Bureau and through yapping and all sorts of other forms.”
The school’s license was suspended for six months beginning April 1. Mason has some advice for other teens learning to drive. “It’s better, that’s all. It’s going to sound scary, but it really does get easier and the more you do it, the more confident you become.
Saenz is to complete gender sensitivity training, an anger management course and a teaching course to learn how to teach in a more positive, conductive and professional environment for her students. After Saenz completes classes and takes responsibility for his actions, he can request that the suspension be terminated early.