KNOXVILLE - (KNOXVILLE) The 78-year-old Knox County Schools bus driver who was charged with driving under the influence in connection with last week’s crash in Safety City appears to pass a random drug and alcohol test and an annual physical months prior to the wreck.
KCS Chief Operating Officer Russ Oaks said state law prevents the school system from discussing the outcome of the tests, but “if there was anything on (them) that would have been outside what is required with the Department of Transportation regulations, we would have taken appropriate action.”
However, the driver's file, released Tuesday, contains six complaints filed between November 2013 and January of this year. A number of the complaints accuse Walker of driving poorly and almost hitting other cars or pedestrians.
One complaint said he pulled over on a busy road and shouted at students. One student told school officials they were held against their will.
According to the incident report, he then opened the door and told students they could get off and walk.
School officials who met with Walker after the incident said they believed he "was trying to do what he believed was right" but his decision "was incorrect and a violation of policy."
At one point in 2013, he was taken off his route in Halls, records show.
Said Darrell Mayes, one of the owners of Mayes Bus Lines, which employs Walker: “Seems like he was taken off a route but then they investigated it and put him right back on it.” Mayes didn’t remember what it was for.
Walker is scheduled to be in Knox County General Sessions Court on March 22 on the DUI charge.
OWNER DEFENDS DRIVER
Mayes also told 10News that Walker had been a good driver for the company for some 15 years. He said he had a good driving history.
After last week's crash, Mayes said, authorities thought he might have had a stroke.
"They did all these tests and determined he had not had a stroke," Mayes said. "But I do know that he’d been under a lot of stress. And you know, I mean, I’ve not talked to him. He is in jail as far as I know. But I will say that if Knox County will approve him back -- they’ve disqualified him right now -- but if they qualify him back I will definitely hire him back."
Considering the six complaints contained in Walker's personnel file, Mayes said: “Our drivers get complaints all the time. I mean, you know, there’s been no serious complaints or anything like that. They (the school system) looked into every complaint they had, but there’s not been none that they really looked deep into it.”
To Mayes, a “serious” complaint would involve “cussing at the kids, hitting a kid, bad driving, anyone getting hurt.”
Kathy Weaver is office manager at Mayes Bus Lines and has known Hollis for more than 15 years.
"He's a very dependable man," Weaver told WBIR 10News Tuesday afternoon. "I don't think Hollis would do anything intentionally wrong, because, like I said, he is a good man."
Weaver and others at Mayes Bus Lines told 10News they hope the investigation will reveal the substance in Walker's system was from his own prescription, taken at an appropriate dosage.
DETAILS OF THURSDAY CRASH
On Tuesday, a day after police charged Hollis Walker with driving under the influence, reckless endangerment and drug possession, the school system’s second-in-command met with WBIR 10News to address bus safety and to say that KCS is doing the best it can to ensure parents that their children are protected.
“I think it’s important to understand that we have some very dedicated people in the transportation department and we have some very dedicated bus contractors and bus drivers, as well, who get up every day with the intentions of providing a safe and reliable transportation system to our students,” Oaks said.
“By and large we do that on a daily basis, and we’re always going to be looking for ways to improve and to address any concerns that are brought to our attention.”
Walker was taking Green Magnet Elementary School students on a field trip around 10 a.m. on March 10 when his bus ran into a gate as it was entering the facility. Investigators believe he then tried to keep driving, hitting another piece of grass and a fence before coming to a stop in the parking lot.
Walker, the only one hurt in the crash, was taken to the Ft. Sanders Medical Center for treatment.
There, his blood tested positive for a controlled substance, according to a police report. Authorities said Walker had 69 of 90 Klonopin pills from a prescription filled earlier in the day, but the prescription was not in his name.
Klonopin is an anti-anxiety medication similar to Xanax.
KCS removed Walker from its bus eligibility roster following the crash.
Walker’s accident is the second major KCS bus wreck this year.
In early February, driver David Yager hit a car and went into a ditch while making a left turn from Cedar Bluff to Dutchtown Road in West Knoxville. Medics treated 14 children with minor injuries, but nobody was seriously hurt.
“One incident is more incidents than we want to have and we will certainly do everything we can to ensure that we don’t have incidents in the future,” Oaks said. “But the other thing you need to look at for comparative purposes is that buses in Knox County run almost 20,000 miles a day and that’s generally done very safely and without incident.”
Oaks said drivers – to get on the approved roster to operate a school bus – need a commercial driver’s license, must pass an initial drug and alcohol test, and take additional drug and alcohol training under state transportation regulations.
Once placed on the roster, potential drivers also are subject to spot drug testing, an annual physical and a yearly driving background check.
Walker took a random drug and alcohol test on Nov. 15, 2015.
In addition, KCS drivers are now subject to the school system’s new driver safety check program, a policy implemented in January that puts uniformed officers on the buses so that they can observe and assess drivers.
Under the program, officers will spot check drivers while joining them on the route. The officers have a 2-page check list that covers 75 to 100 items.
An officer conducted one on Walker earlier in the year, but “nothing was problematic in his operation of the school bus,” Oaks said.
Walker, however, did not have a pre-trip inspection form available. Prior to starting the first trip of the day, a driver is supposed to walk around the bus to make sure that the safety equipment is operational.
Because Walker didn’t have one, Oaks said officials had planned to conduct a follow up check with him.
The driver “ride check” program is part of a series of policies the school system put together in the wake of a December 2014 bus crash that killed two Sunnyview Elementary School students and a teachers’ aide.
At this point, Oaks said it’s too soon to say whether Walker’s crash will lead to any more changes, since school officials are still waiting on the details of the accident and for Walker to make his way through the court system.
But, Oaks said the current policies and regulations in place “should go a long way to ensuring people that we are meeting our requirements and doing all that we can.”
Walker is scheduled to be in court March 22.
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