Monroe County School Bus Driver Careens Down Ravine, Charged With DUI

From today’s Beckley Register-Herald:

School bus driver faces DUI charge

Union man arrested after mishap involving 11 kids

Christian Giggenbach
Register-Herald Reporter

State Police arrested a Monroe County school bus driver Tuesday and charged him with DUI after his bus, carrying 11 students, careened down an 120-foot ravine before coming to rest upright over a small creek.

Monroe Schools Superintendent Lyn Guy told The Register-Herald no children were injured in the 7:20 a.m. accident and all were rescued by EMS responders who built a rope line along the steep embankment.

Clyde Watson Jr., 62, of Union, was charged with DUI with minors in a vehicle, according to a criminal complaint filed by Sgt. J.L. Cooper.

Watson, a 14-year school bus driver, was arrested at the scene prior to being transported to Greenbrier Valley Medical Center in Fairlea. He was later was released from custody after posting $1,000 bond in Monroe Magistrate Court.

The criminal complaint said Watson registered a preliminary blood-alcohol content of .022 at the accident scene.

“The defendant was not tested on the intoximeter due to the elapsed time of first contact with an officer,” Cooper said. “However, blood was collected at Greenbrier Valley Medical Center.”

Results of Watson’s blood tests were unknown Tuesday and Cooper could not be reached for comment.

“In his statement, the defendant advised that he had felt ‘funny’ just before the accident,” Cooper said. “He also advised that he had taken Nyquil last night.”

Although the legal limit for driving under the influence is .08, state laws allow police to charge drivers with DUI who have lower BAC levels. Monroe Prosecutor Rod Mohler could not be reached Tuesday for clarification concerning Watson’s arrest and whether there are special circumstances when minors are in the vehicle.

State CDL laws require licensed drivers to be under .04 BAC while driving, according to State Code.

Guy said Watson has been suspended from his job pending the resolution of the DUI charge. She noted he previously had a spotless record for 14 consecutive years as a bus driver. A phone number for Watson could not be found in several telephone directory listings.

If convicted, Watson faces two days to 12 months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.

Guy said seat belts are not required on school buses, but the heavily padded seats may have contributed to the children’s safety.

“None of the kids had a scratch on them,” Guy said. “The padding on the seats are heavy and kids complain about them at times because they are so tight to get into.”

The accident occurred on Highland Park Road, about two miles from U.S. 219, Guy said.

“Apparently, Mr. Watson over-corrected the steering after running off the right side of the road during his morning bus route,” she said. “The bus left the one-lane road, taking out a telephone/power pole, traveled over 120 feet down an embankment and then came to rest upright at the bottom of a ravine.”

Guy said no injuries were reported from the students, ranging in age from 5 to 16, or Watson. The first person at the scene of the accident, Guy said, was the father of two of the children on the bus. The parent was driving to work when he stopped after noticing the downed telephone pole.

“The parent went down into the ravine and got on the bus with the children and checked them out,” Guy, who was unable to identify the parent, said. “He checked out the kids and everyone seemed to be fine.”

Guy said the bus came to rest with its front wheels across a small creek. Prior to the rescue, Allegheny Power crews responded to the scene because of the downed, live power lines. The rescue could not take place until power was cut to the downed lines, Guy said.

Ronceverte Fire Chief Jody Campbell said more than 30 emergency responders aided in the children’s rescue and subsequent bus recovery. The Union and Ronceverte fire departments, Union Ambulance, Greenbrier County Ambulance, state and county police all aided in the rescue effort, he said.

“First we went in and cut a trail with power saws and we were able to get the children and they walked out of the bus under their own power,” Campbell said. “We constructed a hand rail with the ropes and individually escorted everyone up the rope line and the steep embankment.”

The children were then loaded onto an awaiting school bus and transported to Greenbrier Valley Medical Center, he said.

“Within an hour and a half, all victims from the bus were transported to the hospital,” Guy said.

Campbell said the bus was not recovered from the ravine until about 2 p.m., and that required the assistance of two large wreckers. The bus sustained heavy damage to its front end and a broken windshield, he said.

The bus was transported to the county’s bus lot, where it will stay until state inspectors review it, Guy said.

Note: See UPDATE here.

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