LOGANVILLE, Ga. – Carole Ann Etheridge chomps on a piece of spearmint gum when the Walton County Sheriff’s deputy walks in to give the school bus driver a breathalyzer test.
“When I tell you to blow into this, I want you to blow as hard as you can, as if you were blowing up a balloon,” he tells her after deputies find several open containers of alcohol, including tequila, inside her purse and students complain of her driving.
Etheridge doesn’t put enough wind behind her blow and he makes her do it again, advising her to take a deeper breath before blowing.
“I’m nervous,” the bus driver who has been with this school district since March, admits.
But again, she takes a breath, a deep breath, and like a coach for a softball team telling his girls to run the bases after an outfield hit, he repeats, “blow, blow, blow, blow, blow.”
She blows an alcohol level of .089 at 8:05 a.m.—the legal limit for driving non-commercial vehicles is .08.
“That could be from the night before, drinking?”
“Yeah, it could. I guess,” he hesitantly agrees.
“We went out for my birthday,” the 49-year-old gives the excuse as to why there’s alcohol in her system. “We just had a couple beers and a couple shots of tequila. Probably the tequila is what gets it—cause it’s strong.”
She does not have her driver’s license with her.
“I had no idea it’d still be there,” she tells him.
Etheridge’s route supervisor at the school enters the room.
“I’m sorry to put you through this. I’m sorry, Gina. I’m sorry that this happened,” Etheridge says to her.
“You understand this is not good, right?” her supervisor tells her.
“What’s it gonna mean?”
“I’m not the boss, so I can’t tell you what it means. But it’s not good,” she tells Etheridge.
“So, you think they’re gonna fire me? I just didn’t think. I woke up… like I was fine. I didn’t think.”
“I don’t know what I’m gonna do now,” The Walton County school bus driver concedes.
She was arrested at Loganville Middle School after testing positive for alcohol on Monday, Aug. 27, while in the middle of her route. Deputies found open alcohol containers in her purse.
According to the Walton County Sheriff’s Office, children on Etheridge's bus were texting their parents that something was wrong with her and her driving.
Etheridge was charged and faces 16 counts of child endangerment and DUI, and according to Walton County Schools spokeswoman, Callen Moore, has been fired.
“It gives us as a district the opportunity to review our policies and procedures to see where we can make improvements,” Moore said. “Behavior that jeopardizes student safety will not be tolerated and is not tolerated.”
She was released from jail on a $25,000 bond.