DAYTON, Tenn. – Trista Freeman climbed onto school bus #41 on a chilly morning in November 2018 and knew immediately something was wrong: When the driver greeted her, she said, she smelled alcohol on his breath.
Minutes later, the bus began swerving across lanes and blowing through red lights. Trista was panic-stricken as the bus, carrying her and 26 other high school students, nearly hit a car.
“Everyone on the bus was freaking out, yelling for him to stop,” Trista, 16, recalled. “I was really scared.”
Trista, her older brother, Cody, and some of the other kids on board frantically called or texted their parents, alerting them to the frightening ride in this small manufacturing town about 40 miles northeast of Chattanooga.
“There was so much chaos on the bus. All I know is I wanted off,” said Rose Reynolds, who was then 16. She phoned her mother, and her father, a volunteer firefighter, contacted police.
Other parents flooded the school transportation department and 911 with calls.
School bus driver Michael Ledbetter had more than two dozen students on board when he was stopped and arrested for allegedly driving under the influence in Dayton, Tenn., in November 2018.
A supervisor radioed the bus driver, Michael Ledbetter, and told him to pull over to the side of the highway. Police arrived and gave him field sobriety tests, which he failed. A blood test later revealed he had a .127 blood-alcohol level – more than three times the legal limit for commercial drivers.
“Everybody makes mistakes,” said Lisa Freeman, Trista’s mother. “But what if he had wrecked that bus and hurt those kids? No parent wants to get that phone call.”
Ledbetter, 59, pleaded guilty in July to driving under the influence while accompanied by a child and reckless endangerment. A judge sentenced him to 30 days in jail and 18 months of probation. He and his attorney, Mechelle Story Barbato, declined to comment.