From today’s Register-Herald:
Prosecutor: Bus driver’s alcohol level was higher than field test showed
— MONROE COUNTY
By Christian Giggenbach
UNION — Medical tests have revealed the blood alcohol level of a Monroe County school bus driver charged with DUI following an accident in February was considerably higher than his preliminary on-scene breath test, a prosecutor said Tuesday.
Clyde Watson Jr., 62, of Union, appeared briefly before Monroe County Magistrate Nancy Crews for a pre-trial hearing and was represented by Gap Mills lawyer Geoffrey Wilcher.
State Police charged the 14-year veteran school bus driver with DUI with minors in a vehicle after he crashed his school bus down a 120-foot ravine with 11 children aboard on Feb. 5.
School officials said Watson over-corrected his steering after running off the right side of the road and then slammed through a telephone pole before plunging down the ravine and finally coming to rest over a small creek. No children were injured in the accident.
County Prosecutor Rod Mohler told Crews a “plea agreement has been offered” to Watson which allows the defendant to plead guilty “as charged.”
“Based on Mr. Watson’s years of community service, the state will not object and would be willing to agree to the minimum sentence and fine,” Mohler said. “I think Mr. Watson wants to take some additional time to think over what has been offered and the state will not object.”
Two days after the accident, Watson apologized for his actions in a letter to the school board and also tendered his resignation. In the letter, Watson said he had “hit rock bottom” the morning of the accident and had “an ongoing alcohol problem.”
Mohler’s case against Watson was strengthened greatly after the defendant’s blood test showed a .093 BAC level nearly two hours after the accident.
A preliminary breath test at the scene indicated a relatively low level of alcohol, about .022. Preliminary tests cannot be used as evidence in a trial. However, a blood test can be used as evidence and Watson’s new BAC is higher than the state’s .08 legal limit. After a person’s BAC level reaches .08, a driver is “presumed to be impaired” under West Virginia law. A state CDL regulation requires drivers to be under .04.
Watson did not speak and quickly exited through the back door of the magistrate’s office with family members after the five-minute hearing.
Mohler called the new BAC reading “substantial” and said it puts to rest other issues that previously were raised concerning the accident. At the time of his arrest, Watson told police he had taken the cold medicine Nyquil, which contains alcohol, the night before the accident. Mohler had previously indicated the defendant may also have been diabetic.
“This also takes any health issues out of the picture as the cause of the accident,” Mohler told The Register-Herald after the hearing.
Crews tentatively scheduled another hearing in 30 days. If convicted, Watson faces two days to 12 months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.
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