‘Every State Should Be Passing a Law to Deal With This’: The Danger of Impaired School Bus Drivers

By: - January 23, 2020 12:00 am

Impaired School Bus Drivers: Risky Ride (Second in a series)

After school bus driver Carole Ann Etheridge dropped off 31 middle and high school students in Walton County, Georgia, one August morning in 2017, she was summoned to the principal’s office.

A worried parent had contacted the school system after getting a text from her child on the bus, who said Etheridge was driving erratically and had crossed the center line into oncoming traffic.

The school resource officer, Walton Sheriff’s Office Lt. Charlie Rodriguez, gave Etheridge an initial breath test that showed she had a blood alcohol level of .089 — more than twice the legal limit for commercial drivers. She failed field sobriety tests and was arrested on charges of DUI and child endangerment, according to a police report. In a formal breath test a few hours later, she blew a .048.

Etheridge said she’d been drinking with friends the night before, and when Rodriguez checked her purse at the jail, records show, he found four empty shot bottles of Stolichnaya vodka, a nearly half-full bottle of Silver Tequila and four bottles of prescription drugs in her name, including anti-anxiety and sleeping pills.

Parents are still outraged that Etheridge hadn’t been stopped before she started her route that morning.

“My son could have been dead. What if she went around the S-curve and the bus had flipped?” said Katrina Drlik of Loganville, Georgia. “What the hell was she doing getting behind the wheel of a school bus? How could they have allowed it?”

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Jenni Bergal

Jenni Bergal covers transportation, infrastructure and cybersecurity for Stateline. She has been a reporter at Kaiser and the Center for Public Integrity.