Passing The Buck

Seems once again everybody is trying to pass the buck when it comes to how a known drug abuser was allowed to operate a Loudon County bus. Loudon County had policies in place that would have prevented the DUI incident from happening if those responsible had simply enforced the policies. Loudon County Director Of Transportation, Gil Luttrell, admitted that a board member had warned him of the issue and that the doctor who tested the driver told him that the driver had a problem. But according to Lutrell he chose to ignore the warnings and allow the driver to continue driving a bus. Policy changes wont poor judgement.

Loudon Co. school officials worry bus driver drug testing not enough

6 News Reporter

"I just think there is going to have to be some help from the top down with regard to what can be done with regard to more strict screening for prescribed drugs," says Gil Luttrell, Loudon Co. Schools assistant superintendent.LOUDON (WATE) -- Loudon County school officials admit they're concerned about prescription drug abuse among contracted bus drivers, although they have a good safety record.

"I do not recall in eight-and-a-half years that we've had a bus driver fail a random drug screen, and we have over 40 drivers and 35 buses on the road every day," says Gil Luttrell, Loudon Co. Schools assistant superintendent and transportation director.

Luttrell says the drug testing required by state and federal regulations might not be as in-depth as it should be, considering prescription drug abuse has become a growing problem.

"There is not a prescribed regulation, if you will, that requires testing for legal drugs that may impair someone," he says.

School bus drivers are only drug tested for alcohol and drugs upon getting their commercial drivers license and then randomly. They're screened for marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, opiates and PCP.

They also have to get a medical certificate from a doctor saying they're physically qualified as often as every 90 days, but it's generally done every two years.

"It's my understanding that anyone taking a prescribed drug must inform the physician they're doing so. If they don't self report, I suppose you can say they slipped through the cracks," Luttrell says.

On September 29, one of the county's school buses was found sitting full of kids in a church parking lot. The bus driver was passed out and when EMTs arrived, they say she had bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and didn't know what day it was.

No students were hurt, but the bus driver, Vickie Kwasny, was charged with DUI and child reckless endangerment.

According to the arrest report, Kwasny admitted to taking a muscle relaxant called Soma. Although it was prescribed, a doctor said Kwasny had abused her medication.

But the question remains, how did Kwasny pass all the required testing?

Gil Luttrell won't comment because there's a pending investigation, but added, "I just think there is going to have to be some help from the top down with regard to what can be done with regard to more strict screening for prescribed drugs."

In other words, the state Department of Safety and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) might need to step in.

FMCSA officials say they're constantly reconsidering their policies, making sure they're up to date. In regards to the incident with Kwasny, they also pointed the finger at doctors.

"It is the medical practitioner's responsibility to appropriately provide medical treatments with an understanding and appreciation of that person's unique occupational responsibility," says Duane DeBruyne, an FMCSA spokesman.

Chuck Cagle, attorney for Loudon County Schools, says Kwasny passed two drug screenings in the last year. One test was done after school officials learned she was taken to the hospital by EMTs. Both tests came back negative.

Loudon County school officials will meet Thursday to discuss possible changes to policies regarding the hiring of school bus drivers.

Also, the Tennessee Highway Patrol, which is responsible for training bus drivers and inspecting school buses, admit to problems of their own.

"We're still having some problems with the medical certificates being forged by drivers. That is a problem. And that is going to be addressed by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance and the Department of Transportation," says Sgt. Ken Rose, with the Highway Patrol.

THP also says only two troopers are assigned to keep buses and bus drivers safe for 14 East Tennessee counties. One of the troopers, Chris Jarnigan, admits they're spread thin.