Last week, a school bus driver from Paradise, California was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol after several students riding on her bus, as well as parents of children on that bus, reported that she may have been drunk.
Students and their parents called 911 to report that the school bus driver, Desiree Ann Abrams, was speaking loudly, interacting inappropriately with the students, and smelled as though she had been drinking.
“When we got on the bus that day, she was kind of slurring her words. I thought she was just having a really good day but when I sat down she was stopping people and asking them questions what’s your middle name, how old are you, you’re looking pretty good today,” Dustin Jones, an eighth-grader at Paradise High School, told local news outlet KRCR.
When CHP officers arrived, they observed signs commonly associated with being intoxicated and determined that Abrams was driving under the influence.
According to law enforcement, no students were on board of the bus at the time of the DUI stop because they had already been dropped off at their regular stops.
“I thought she was just joking around until I saw she got arrested then I believed it,” said Phenix Rye, a junior at Paradise High School.
Paradise Unified School District confirmed the incident.
“A Paradise Unified School District bus driver was arrested on 11-15-19. District Administration was present at the scene and confirmed that students were safe and secure. We are grateful for the prompt response of both the Butte County Sheriff’s Office and the California Highway Patrol as well as the courageous actions of students and families. As always, student safety remains our top priority. Resources will be made available for students that may need additional support. Thank you for your understanding and support in this ongoing process.”
Abrams is out on bond and facing DUI charges and child endangerment.
Not only is Abrams looking at the punishment under California’s DUI law, she is also looking at additional penalties because of the danger that she placed the student in.
Under California Vehicle Code section 23572, California’s child endangerment DUI enhancement law, a first time DUI conviction where a minor under the age of 14 is in the car will bring an additional 48 hours in a county jail. A second time DUI conviction will bring an additional 10 days in jail. A third time will bring an additional 30 days in jail. A fourth will bring an additional 90 days. Furthermore, these penalties are to be served consecutively, not concurrently with the underlying DUI penalties.
The prosecutor need only prove that the driver was driving under the influence and that there was a minor child under the age of 14 in the car when that person drove.
The students being transported by Abrams, however, were high school students whose ages generally range from 14 to 18. If so, how can Abrams be charged with child endangerment for a DUI if the enhancement only applies to children under the age of 14?
Often times, prosecutors will charge child endangerment as a separate and whole charge against a person under the Penal Code, not as a mere enhancement to a DUI under the Vehicle Code.
California Penal Code section 273(a) makes it illegal for an adult to 1.) cause or permit a minor to suffer unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering, 2.) cause or permit a minor to be injured, or 3.) cause or permit a child to be placed in a dangerous situation.
The crime of child endangerment, if a misdemeanor, carries up to one year in county jail and up to a $1,000 fine. However, if the risk to the child or children included death or “great bodily injury,” a felony child endangerment conviction carries two, four, or six years in a California state prison, and a fine of up to $1,000.
It should be noted that a person arrested for a DUI with a child in the car cannot be punished under both the Vehicle Code’s enhancement law and the Penal Code’s child endangerment law. Thus, if Abrams is found guilty, she’ll be punished for the DUI, and either the child endangerment enhancement or a separate child endangerment conviction.