A Bonita School fifth-grader is being commended for reporting to authorities that the bus he was riding Monday afternoon, Dec. 16, on his way home from school was being driven erratically.
The student called 911 from the bus, setting in motion a series of events which led to the arrest of the bus driver, identified as Karolyn Denise Ray, 55, of Patterson, on charges of driving under the influence of a controlled substance and child endangerment.
Authorities took Ray into custody after locating the bus and making contact with the driver on Morton Davis Drive in Diablo Grande. confirmed California Highway Patrol officer Thomas Olsen. She was driving for First Student, a company which contracts with the Newman-Crows Landing Unified School District to provide transportation services.
Olsen and Newman-Crows Landing Superintendent Randy Fillpot each praised the student.
Fillpot told Mattos Newspapers that he was “appalled” by the incident, but applauded the student for taking action.
“He did exactly what we hope would happen. He is to be commended,” said Fillpot, who said he spoke with the student Tuesday.
Olsen said that the driver’s actions were alarming enough to the student that he dialed 911.
“I’m thrilled that a child of that age knew to call 911, and give their location and everything. I am very impressed. This kid is a hero to me. He did everything right,” Olsen commented.
The student who called 911, Troy Luna, told Mattos Newspapers that he noticed an unusual odor when boarding the bus.
Luna said the ride home was frightening to the point that he decided to alert authorities.
Luna said the driver missed a turn on the route and was speeding and swerving.
At one point the driver slammed on the brakes and send two riders flying forward, he reported.
Fillpot said the bus was carrying elementary students, most of whom attended Bonita School in Crows Landing.
Olsen said that he was unsure how many kids were still on the bus when law enforcement officers located the vehicle and made contact with the driver, but said that at one point 40 to 50 students were on board.
Olsen declined to identify the controlled substance authorities believe was involved, citing the ongoing investigation.
Fillpot said he was advised that the driver was a substitute on the route who regularly was assigned to a different district. He said a First Student supervisor drove the remainder of the route last Monday to deliver students who had not been dropped off prior to the law enforcement contact or picked up by their students.
He said district administrators have met with First Student management, and are further evaluating the district’s relationship with the transportation company.
“The children are the first thing we are concerned about,” Fillpot said, adding that the incident was “appalling and disheartening.”
He said the district has a long-standing relationship with First Student, but did not rule out seeking proposals from other transportation companies in light of the incident.
“It is incumbent upon us to make sure the best company is available to transport our kids safely,” Fillpot commented.
Fillpot said he has asked First Student representatives to appear before the school board on Jan. 13 to address the issue.
First Student addressed the issue in a statement.
“Certainly, we understand and appreciate the concern this has caused. We, too, take this incident very seriously. First Student is partnering with local authorities for their investigation of the matter; we are also conducting our own internal review,” the statement read. “Consistent with our standard process the driver was immediately removed from service pending the outcome of the investigation. Given that this is an active investigation we are unable to comment further.”
Olsen, the CHP officer, said the arrest represents an extremely isolated incident in a profession which is held to the highest of standards.
Bus drivers, he reflected, must complete a rigorous licensing and training process and under state law are subject to random drug testing which is administered by their employer.
“This is a very unusual incident that occurred. It is important to know that children are safe, and the overwhelming majority of drivers in our state are doing an exceptional job,” Olsen commented.
A tremendous amount of trust is placed in drivers, he added, and the responsibility is immense.
“They transport our children,” Olsen said. “I can’t think of anything more important.”