PICKENS COUNTY, Ga. (Atlanta News First) – The school bus driver who crashed a bus with 40 kids on board this past August had pleaded guilty in 2008 to a drug charge, a charge later dismissed from his record thanks to Georgia’s “conditional discharge” program.
Jeffrey Tucker’s 2007 arrest and 2008 guilty plea in Canton thus did not appear on his background check when he was hired by Pickens County Schools.
As Atlanta News First reported, Tucker – along with the children on board – was ushered off the crashed bus and onto another bus, immediately after the crash earlier this summer. Tucker then left and completed the route, instead of waiting for police or paramedics to arrive at the scene of the crash.
An hour later, Tucker was questioned by a police officer at the school bus depot, who reported he could “smell the odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from his breath as he spoke.” Tucker, who was eventually fired, was arrested and charged with driving under the influence, failure to maintain lane, and 40 counts of reckless conduct.
Atlanta News First Investigates also uncovered Tucker was arrested in Cherokee County on meth possession charges in 2007 and pleaded the next year, raising questions about how and why he was hired in the first place and why he was given that second bus, instead of waiting for police to arrive.
Atlanta News First Investigates attended a Nov. 10, 2022, Pickens County school board meeting after more than two months of interview requests with the superintendent, all of which were denied.
Young repeatedly deflected questions about the incident, often referring to a previously issued news release.
- Atlanta News First Investigates: “Superintendent, why was a school bus driver who was in a crash given the keys to a second bus?”
- Young: “All I can do is defer you to our press release.”
- Atlanta News First Investigates: “In that press release, it said you were going to review bus related policies. has that review completed?”
- Young: “No, it has not.”
- Atlanta News First Investigates: “It’s been two months. What’s taking so long?”
- Young: “Well, it’s fairly lengthy process so it’s ongoing.”
Parents Ashley Wilson and Deann Flowers – who both had children on the bus – are outraged over the school system’s handling of the incident.
“It doesn’t make sense to me,” said Wilson. “Why do it that way? Why go about it that way? Because y’all are covering your butts. If that bus hadn’t gone off and swerved on the other side, we might not have kids right now.”
“Every single kid he was putting in danger,” Flowers alleged.
Atlanta News First Investigates asked Young about the parents’ concerns.
- Atlanta News First Investigates: “Is there anything you have to say to the parents whose kids were on that bus? They have a lot of questions, and they want answers.”
- Young: “The only comment we’ve got is to refer you back to the press release.”
- Atlanta News First Investigates: “Why was this guy hired with a meth charge?”
- Young: “Let me ask you a question. You did an open records request. You have the same background check that we had access to for that information. So my question to you is, why are you being so dishonest?
- Atlanta News First Investigates: “Why am I being dishonest? How so?”
- Young: “You’ve got the same background check we have.”
But we didn’t. Tucker’s personnel file, provided by the district, did not include his background check. Public records Atlanta News First Investigates obtained showed that Tucker was arrested for possession of methamphetamine in 2007 and convicted in 2008.
After we pointed that out and after Young called us dishonest, he provided Atlanta News First Investigates with a copy of Tucker’s background check conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI). Tucker’s meth arrest and guilty plea were not there, which brought up another question: Why didn’t the GBI’s gold standard background check flag the incident?
Well – Tucker was sentenced under Georgia’s “conditional discharge,” which allows first-time drug offenders to take advantage of a probation program. If they complete the program, the court drops the charges, and they don’t show up on background checks.
And, that’s how a man who completed four years’ probation after a meth arrest was allowed to drive school children.
Parents still insist that there’s no excuse why a driver who crashed a bus with kids on board, was given the keys to a second bus and allowed to leave the scene of a crash.
“They definitely shouldn’t have let him drive off on another bus,” Flowers added. “I would like the school system to pay more attention, take more initiative, to keep these kids safe.”
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