School Closings & Delays

Police: Benton Area Bus Driver Appeared To Be Drunk

BENTON — Parents in a school district got a letter advising them of an incident  on a school bus and now police are preparing to charge the bus driver.

Students say she appeared to be drunk.

Police in Columbia County tell Newswatch 16 they are in the process of filing charges against a woman, who drove a bus full of school kids on Wednesday, when she appeared to be under the influence.

Police tell us the bus driver – Jennifer Watson – will be charged on Monday. They have filed arrest papers claiming Watson was drunk Wednesday when she was driving dozens of Benton Area students to school.

The Benton Area School District sent home a letter to parents, notifying them that there was an incident on Bus 1 on Wednesday.

Here’s what police believe happened: Jennifer Watson was drunk when she picked up students on Wednesday. She took some of the students home but then turned the bus around and stopped at several bus stops before she dropped off the students back at school.

Officers plan to charge Watson with reckless endangerment, driving under the influence, and careless driving.

Police believe Watson endangered her own life and the lives of dozens of students when she got behind the wheel while intoxicated.

“We had two kids up front talking to her, trying to calm her down, and one of them said that they could smell like alcohol on her, like, on her breath,” said junior Ryan Lynn.

Lynn was on Bus 1 Wednesday with about 25 other students ranging from Kindergarten through 12th grade. He says the driver seemed perfectly fine until she turned the bus around.

“We were like ‘where are we going?’ and she was like ‘I’m taking you to school’ and we were like ‘we already went to school’ and we were like, ‘OK.’

Watson is employed by Brewington Transportation, a local bus company that has as contract with the Benton Area School District.

Because of the incident the bus company says they’re now reexamining their hiring process. As for the bus driver, the company says they’re doing all they can to ensure she never gets behind the wheel of one of their vehicles again.

The high school notified parents the very next day. One of those parents told us the district could not have handled the situation any better.

“They did everything right. They called us on our cell phones, and followed the protocol to 100 percent,” said parent Julie Parr.

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