School knew of bus driver issue

Officer raised concerns weeks before DUI arrest

By Hugh G. Willett

LOUDON - School officials had been alerted to issues with a school bus driver weeks before she was charged with driving under the influence with a bus full of children, according to a Loudon police officer.

Sgt. Scott Newman, who also is a member of the Loudon County school board, says he wants to call a special board workshop to discuss revising the school system's policies because of the incident.

When Newman heard that a school bus driver was taken to the hospital on the morning of Sept. 29 under suspicion of driving under the influence, he wasn't surprised. "Right away I knew it was bus No. 9," he said.

Bus No. 9 was driven by Vickie Lynn Kwasny, 48, who was found earlier that morning, unresponsive and behind the wheel of a bus loaded with children on their way to Loudon Elementary School.

Later that day, Kwasny was charged with driving under the influence and child endangerment. She was terminated from her position as a bus driver but remains a county employee on unpaid leave from her job as cafeteria manager at Loudon High School.

As a supervisor with the Loudon Police Department, Newman said he was aware that emergency medical services had been to Kwasny's home at least twice in recent months, responding to calls from relatives who feared she had overdosed on prescription medication.

Newman is also a member of the Loudon school board. He said he was concerned about the possibility of violating Kwasny's privacy but even more concerned that children riding in her bus might be in danger. His concern prompted him to alert the school system weeks before Kwasny's arrest.

"A couple of weeks before, I'd gone to Gil Luttrell and told him the fire department had been out to her house on drug overdoses," Newman said.

Luttrell, assistant director of schools with responsibility for transportation, declined to comment for this story.

Chuck Cagle, an attorney representing the Tennessee School Board Association and the Loudon schools, confirmed that the school system was notified of the incidents at Kwasny's home. Cagle said the school department followed correct procedure in its subsequent handling of the case.

All holders of commercial driver's licenses are required to submit to random drug screening. Kwasny had not yet been tested on the random drug screening cycle for this school year, Cagle said.

Cagle confirms that Kwasny was screened for drugs twice in the past year as a result of reports to the central office. Both screens were negative, and Kwasny was allowed to continue driving the bus and working in the cafeteria.

According to Newman, this is where the system broke down. "Somewhere down the line, we've dropped the ball," he said.

After her arrest, Kwasny admitted to being under the influence of Soma, a powerful muscle relaxant, for which she had a prescription. The drug screens only targeted illegal drugs, Newman said.

"Being in law enforcement, I can tell you that, these days, we're dealing more and more with abuse of prescription pills - it's not just marijuana," he said.

Tennessee School Board Association attorney Cagle said that, in his opinion as a practitioner of school law, drivers of school buses should be required to report to their employers any prescription medications they are taking. This information should be provided with a doctor's certification that the employee is safe to operate a school bus.

"Additionally, I believe that drug screening may need to move to the next level - i.e., blood tests instead of urine samples - in specified situations in which it is believed that the driver may be abusing prescription medications, even those legally in the possession of the driver," he said.

Newman said he agrees that the policy used by the school department needs to be revised. He said he is trying to organize a workshop for the school board that will review the current policies and look for ways to close loopholes such as those that allowed Kwasny to remain on the job.