School bus driver ticketed on suspicion of driving drunk
A school bus driver ferrying roughly 30 students to Orchard Mesa Middle School was detained by police and ticketed on suspicion of drunken driving and other charges Tuesday morning after a student on the bus smelled alcohol on the driver and noticed him behaving oddly, authorities said.
Gary Eugene Williams, 54, of Clifton, was issued a summons on suspicion of driving while ability impaired, child abuse and failing to drive in a designated lane, all of which are misdemeanor or traffic counts, said Trooper Nate Reid, spokesman for the Colorado State Patrol. Reid said Williams could be charged with 30 counts of child abuse, one for each of the students on the bus.
Reached by phone at home Tuesday evening, Williams acknowledged to The Daily Sentinel he drank numerous beers Monday afternoon and evening, but he didn’t believe he was impaired when he was driving the bus. He insisted his blood-alcohol level was lower than the range reported by the State Patrol, and he was “baffled” when a trooper stopped him.
“I love my kids. I would in no way endanger them,” he said. “I don’t know if one of the kids had a vendetta against me. It is what it is, I blew what I blew, and we’ll just have to see what happens.”
Reid said a text message from a student on the bus to a parent triggered law enforcement’s attention.
“The student had a communication with a parent that the bus driver had smelled of alcohol and was acting odd and wasn’t driving all that well, either,” Reid said.
The student’s parent then called 911. Police dispatchers aired a REDDI report, which stands for Report Every Drunken Driver Immediately. A trooper caught up to Williams around 7:15 a.m. about three blocks from Orchard Mesa Middle School, 2736 Unaweep Ave., after Williams had dropped off the students, Reid said.
The trooper observed signs of impairment, placed Williams into custody, administered a chemical test and released him on a summons, Reid said. He confirmed that a DWAI charge means Williams’ blood-alcohol level registered between 0.05 and 0.08.
Reid commended the student’s actions.
“The student did the right thing. That kid pays attention,” he said.
Reid said Williams started his bus route at 5:45 a.m. It wasn’t immediately clear when Williams began picking up students.
Williams told The Sentinel he shared two pitchers of beer with another person Monday afternoon, then drank “five or six” more beers at home later in the evening.
“I was totally not worried because I had had random alcohol tests (in the past), and they always come back clean,” he said.
He said when he dropped off the students Tuesday morning he spoke with the director of safety at the middle school and she didn’t report anything. He said he believes if he was impaired, the director of safety would have taken some kind of action.
Despite the blood-alcohol content range needed to be accused of driving while ability impaired, Williams was adamant his level was 0.025.
“I did what I did, and we’ll just have to see how it comes out,” he said.
Williams is employed with Cincinnati, Ohio-based First Student Inc., with which School District 51 contracts for school bus service. First Student released a statement Tuesday afternoon indicating Williams was suspended pending the outcome of an investigation.
“The safety and security of the students we transport daily is our top priority. We take issues such as this very seriously and are cooperating fully with local law enforcement as they conduct their investigation,” the statement read.
First Student spokesman Timothy Stokes said Williams has been employed with the company since 2008 and had no prior incidents.
District 51 spokeswoman Christy McGee said the district has been in touch with First Student. She said Orchard Mesa Middle School officials contacted parents of students who ride Williams’ bus to let them know what happened and that another driver immediately will take over the route.
“We want kids to be safe whenever they’re in our custody, whether that’s on the bus or in school,” McGee said.
Colorado Bureau of Investigation records show Williams was arrested by the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department on suspicion of driving under the influence in 1979. The records don’t indicate the outcome of that case.
This is the second incident involving a First Student bus driver and alcohol in the last year and a half. A driver was fired after stopping at Mount Garfield Wine & Liquors, 3233 Interstate 70 Business Loop, to buy a bottle of liquor while students waited inside the bus in December 2010.