06/05/11 — Duplin County bus driver charged with DWI

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Duplin County bus driver charged with DWI

By Staff Reports
Published in News on June 5, 2011 1:50 AM

A Duplin County school bus driver was terminated Thursday after being charged with driving while impaired and driving a school bus after consuming alcohol.

School system spokeswoman Dawn Craft said Friday the driver, Fontella Sharaka Wilson, 31, of Rose Hill, was driving a bus for E.E. Smith Middle School in Kenansville with about 50 students on board.

In a news release Friday, Ms. Craft explained that about 7 a.m. Thursday, the Duplin County school bus garage was contacted by a parent asking why the bus was late. The garage then contacted Ms. Wilson who told Jeff Thigpen, school transportation director, that she was not feeling well. According to the release, Thigpen told Ms. Wilson to pull over to the side of the road and wait for help to arrive.

Then, using the bus's GPS tracking device, he was able to locate the bus at the intersection of Lunefield and Rainbow Roads outside of Kenansville.

Upon arriving at the bus's location, Thigpen called Duplin County EMS and Ms. Wilson was taken to Duplin General Hospital. Once she arrived there, emergency department officials conducted breath-alcohol and urine tests, which indicated her to be under the influence of alcohol, at which time the North Carolina Highway Patrol was called.

A Highway Patrol spokeswoman said the tests had been sent to the SBI for further analysis and that a blood-alcohol content level was not yet available.

Ms. Craft emphasized that no accident occurred and that the children were all unharmed. She said a substitute driver finished the route and that all the parents were notified of the incident.

She said all of Duplin's 129 bus drivers undergo training, background checks and drug testing prior to employment and are required to attend safety meetings and briefings throughout the school year.

Ms. Wilson had been with the district for several years, first receiving her license in 2002, although she did not drive from 2007 to 2009. In 2003, she was in one bus accident, but had been re-employed since 2010 without incident.

However, because of the school system's zero-tolerance policy, she was immediately terminated, school officials said.

"First and foremost, thanks be to God that all of our children are safe today," Superintendent Austin Oba-sohan said in a news re-lease. "The safety of our children is always our top priority. (Thursday) we had an employee who appears to have made the unprofessional choice to operate a school bus when they should not have.

"Our board policy is clear. Our school board has a zero tolerance for any decisions which could affect the safety of our children. We have dealt with this situation accordingly. I am very pleased with the way our staff handled this today. Again, we are all so thankful there was no accident and all of our children are safe."