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Arrested school bus driver met district requirements

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By Don Worthington

A Chesterfield County school bus operator arrested this week for driving under the influence met the district’s requirements to be a driver, said county school Superintendent Harrison Goodwin.

Angela Caldwell of Jefferson was arrested Aug. 28 after witnesses called 911 saying they saw her driving erratically near Airport Road and S.C. 265, according to the S.C. Highway Patrol and Goodwin.

It was about 7:30 a.m. and she had five students on her bus, three from Central High School and two from New Heights Middle School, said Goodwin.

Her blood alcohol level was 0.31 percent, almost four times the legal limit. She was also charged with child endangerment and a broken-seal violation for having an open bottle of alcohol in her purse.

The school district has suspended her while it investigates the incident, said school spokesman Ken Buck. She has been employed by the school district since 2012 as a bus driver and a cafeteria worker at Central High School.

“I can’t emphasize enough that this was a bad, bad, bad decision,” Goodwin said. “How do you get on a school bus in the shape she appeared she was in?”

Goodwin said the school district has a system of checks in place to screen bus drivers before they are hired and during their employment.

The school district runs a background check on all employees through the State Law Enforcement Division. There are pre-employment drug and alcohol screenings. Drivers are randomly tested for drug and alcohol. Refusal to take a random test is an automatic dismissal.

Caldwell “didn’t have a negative driving record,” said Goodwin. “She didn’t have a bunch of points.”

District policy limits bus drivers to four points on their personal S.C. driving record.

“Four points are the maximum. Beyond that it’s a loss of livelihood,” Goodwin said.

The state suspends driving privileges when 12 points are accumulated.

Conviction of driving under the influence results in an automatic license suspension.

A school bus driver’s personal driving record is also periodically reviewed, Goodwin said. The school district is automatically notified if a school bus driver’s personal record has any new moving violations anywhere in the state.

Goodwin stressed the safety of the county’s bus system and the fact that this is only the second time in his 25 years in education he has seen a bus operator drive while allegedly impaired. The other case involved drugs, he said. It was not in Chesterfield County, he said.

Each day Chesterfield County has about 99 buses on the roads. There are about 160 drivers, but that number includes people who drive activity buses such as coaches. Goodwin said the district struggles to keep regular route bus drivers.

Regular route drivers often have an elementary school route followed by a middle and high school route. Caldwell had only a middle and high school route that day.

Some Chesterfield County buses have cameras to record bus drivers and students. Caldwell’s bus did not have a camera.

The cameras record what happens in the bus. They cannot be viewed in real time. Camera footage is only reviewed after a problem is reported. Goodwin said.

Goodwin praised the action of residents who called 911 to report the bus driver.

He said students and parents who have concerns about a bus driver should tell their principal.