A fifty-five year-old bus driver recently pleaded guilty to child endangerment and driving while intoxicated after she took students on a terrifying bus ride while reportedly driving a school bus while intoxicated. Students apparently begged the driver to stop because she was in no condition to operate the school bus. The driver felt that the students were overreacting and continued to drive, reportedly speeding, running over a mailbox, and rolling backwards down a hill. Some students finally opened the emergency door at the back of the bus so they could get out, putting a stop to the incident. Luckily, neither the bus driver nor any of the passengers suffered any injuries. The bus driver’s attorney said that her actions were caused by a bad reaction between alcohol and some prescription medication she was taking.
DUI has been discussed at length in some of our previous blogs, so this blog will take an alternate path and deal with child endangerment. Tennessee’s codification of the crime of child endangerment can be found in T.C.A. section 39-15-401(c). This statute deals primarily with child abuse cases, but the statute is constructed in such a way that it could technically be applicable to the bus driver’s situation. The most interesting thing about this statute from a criminal defense standpoint is its requirement that a person “knowingly” expose a child to personal injury in order to be convicted of the offense of child endangerment.
If the bus driver had been charged in Tennessee, she could have made the argument that she did not “knowingly” expose the children on the school bus to physical injury because her condition was caused by a reaction between alcohol and the prescription medication she was taken. This reaction may have been something the bus driver did not know could occur before it happened, which may have put her in a disoriented state that led her to drive the bus while intoxicated. The effectiveness of this argument would depend on the surrounding circumstances and perhaps the credibility of the bus driver. The argument may prove ineffective, but it would be worth a shot, since proving that the driver did not act knowingly would absolve her from liability under that section of the statute.