KNOXVILLE (WATE) – A Knox County school bus driver was arrested on DUI charges after crashing a school bus last week carrying 33 people, including students from Green Magnet School on a field trip.
Hollis Walker, 78, faces charges for DUI, reckless endangerment and simple possession. Deputies originally thought a medical condition had caused the crash.
The Mayes Bus Lines bus was taking the second graders to Safety City Thursday morning around 9:30 a.m. when Walker appeared to suffer a problem.
Related story: Knox County bus contractor doesn’t believe driver took drugs
Investigators say Walker claimed the bus’ front right tire came off the roadway. After not being able to return to the road, the bus hit a gate and then a fence. It eventually went into a ditch.
Walker was taken to Ft. Sanders Medical Center where it was eventually determined he was driving under the influence.
Once he was released from the hospital, he was arrested and charged. He was in possession of 69 Klonopin pills from a prescription for 90 pills filled earlier in the day. The prescription was not in his name. He is being held on $4,500 bond.
No children were hurt in the crash and they continued with their planned activities at Safety City. According to a spokesperson for Knox County Schools, Walker is no longer eligible to be a driver. If he is found guilty, the district plans to make his ineligibility will become permanent.
A review of Walker’s file shows five complaints filed against his bus since September 2015 about a range of things from the bus being off schedule, improperly combining loads, pulling out in front of other vehicles and nearly getting involved in accidents.
Web Extra: Read the complaints [PDF]
A 2013 incident is also on file in which Walker said kids were being disruptive on the bus from Halls Middle and High School. He stopped the bus and asked students to sit down, but they would not. He then stopped the bus and said it would not move until students were seated. Students then complained about being held against their will at which time Walker said he opened the door and said they could leave if they wanted to. Some students did.
School officials said he did not have the authority to put students off the bus and put him on a conditional status for the 2013-14 school year and transferred him to a different route.
Those complaints, combined with a possible DUI, have many asking how the district makes sure school bus drivers are checked so that kids are always safe.
Russ Oaks, Knox County Schools Chief Operating Officer, said all drivers have to take drug and alcohol tests before they’re even considered for the Knox County Schools bus driver roster. Once they’re on the eligible driver roster, they’re all subject to random drug and alcohol testing on an annual basis. However “subject to” does not necessarily mean your child’s bus driver is tested within any given year. Walker’s driver file doesn’t have documentation for any drug or alcohol testing since 2009.
Oaks said the district is only required to test about half of the drivers for drugs, and about 10% for alcohol.
“We drug test about 250 drivers a year and we alcohol test something above50,” he said. “It’s what we’re required to manage and do by Federal Motor Carrier regulations and by Department of Transportation.”
Oaks said that while Knox County Schools has not discussed getting rid of its contracts with bus companies in favor of drivers being KCS employees, a third party is currently assessing the transportation system and will be releasing a report at the end of the month.