By James Cook, Times Editor
The bus driver who was accused of driving under the influence three weeks ago will have his case heard by the Powell Grand Jury. The driver, Jesse C. Patrick Jr., was in Powell District Court last Tuesday and the court found there was enough evidence to bound the case over for consideration by the grand jury.
Police arrested Patrick, Jr., 40 of Stanton, and charged him with driving while under the influence and 15 counts of wanton endangerment after he drove a Powell County school bus with the high school cross country team on board to and from a meet in Owsley County on Sept. 12.
The arrest citation has the word drugs circled in the section that asks if alcohol or drugs were involved. The wanton endangerment counts cover the 14 student-athletes and the coach who were on the bus during the ordeal. According to the police report, Patrick failed the field sobriety tests and admitted to taking a loritab before leaving the school Saturday morning and a xanax the night before.
Patrick allegedly hit a guardrail on the way to the meet, but told the team coach, Michael Coleman that he was tired. On the way back Coleman, his team members and parents who were following the bus reported that Patrick was driving erratically, swerving back and forth across the mostly two lane highway and speeding. Reportedly, at one point while Coleman tried to talk to Patrick about his driving, a parent pulled in front of the bus to try to slow Patrick down. Patrick apparently passed the parent’s car and continued on toward Stanton.
A student on the bus called police on their cell phone and officers were waiting for Patrick at the school. He was arrested at the scene without incident. The student-athletes and their parents were visibly shook up as they left, some still upset over the ordeal.
Patrick had been involved in what school superintendent Evelyn Neely and school transportation director Earnie Smallwood called a “minor accident” on Aug. 6. At the time it was reported that on the second day of school Patrick’s bus struck a vehicle that was sitting on the side of the road on Red Bird Drive, just off Virden Ridge Road in Clay City. Apparently the car had been left there after possibly breaking down. Patrick reportedly tried to avoid an oncoming car and hit the vehicle, breaking a tail light. A police report was filed, but no drug testing was conducted. Patrick was placed on a different route the next day. School officials have said that the move was not due to the accident but had “been discussed days before.”
“I went out there to take a look, the truck was sitting on the side of the road, no one was in it, it was not moving and the rear tire of the bus hit the tail light,” Smallwood said, reflecting back on Patrick’s earlier incident when he was interviewed after Patrick’s arrest. “In hind sight you think maybe if we had done one (drug test) maybe this may not have happened. But given the same circumstances, I don’t think I would have done anything different.”
However, according to the driver of that truck, Zack Barnett, he was in the vehicle and was trying to move over as far as he could so the bus could get by him. The accident report filed by Powell County Deputy and School Resource Officer Doug Neal states that the Mazda truck was attempting to move over so the bus could pass. The bus did hit the truck with a rear tire and broke out a tail light.
Carol Barnett, Zack Barnett’s wife, notified the Times that the earlier story that no one being in the truck and that it was possibly left on the side of the road was not accurate. “Zack was in the truck when the bus hit it,” she said, “and it was more than just a tail light; there are some scratches down the side, but all we want is for our tail light to be fixed.” The Barnett’s provided the Times with an estimate from Doan’s Body Shop in Heidelberg that indicated there was damage to the left tail light assembly and possible damage to the left side of the truck’s bed that may require some repair and painting. The estimate came to just under $410.
Smallwood did say that the school system does have a set policy on what kind of accident would require a drug test. However, both Smallwood and Neely have stated since Patrick’s arrest that some changes in policy could be forthcoming.
By James Cook, Times Editor