(STORY APPEARS IN THE DEC. 6 EDITION OF THE SPORTS JOURNAL)
BY DEAN HOCKNEY
In an age when student safety has taken center stage after scandals in such places as Carmel High School, Penn State University and Syracuse University, the Kokomo-Center School Corporation is again facing its own unfortunate situation involving the girls swim team. On Saturday morning, Dec. 3, a Kokomo bus driver was arrested for driving the high school girls swim team while intoxicated after sheriff deputies determined she ingested prescription drugs and had a blood alcohol level nearly three-times the legal limit.
Kokomo-Center bus driver Theresa Mast, 56, departed Kokomo High School at approximately 8 a.m. Saturday morning en route to a swim meet in Richmond when a swim team parent noticed something was not right. Howard County Sheriff Steve Rogers said the parent was following the school bus on US 31 when she noticed the erratic movements of the bus, so she called Kokomo girls swim coach Donita Walters, who was on the bus, to inform her of the situation. The parent, Celena Hawk, told Deputy Mike Welker, “It was the scariest thing she ever witnessed.”
“(The parent) noticed (the bus driver) was driving in and out of the lane of the roadway, and that drew everyone’s attention to her driving,” said Rogers. “Just the fact the school bus is driving erratically means we need to get the bus stopped, and that is what happened; they got onto the parking lot and the children were safely loaded onto the other bus.”
Rogers said the bus drove 14 student-athletes from Howard County though Tipton County and into Hamilton County when the swim coach had the driver pull into the Gas America at Bakers Corner. According to a Supplementary Report filed by Welker, the coach was so concerned, “She finally told (Director of Human Resources and Operations Mike) Wade that she was going to get Theresa to stop the bus before she got someone killed.”
Welker’s report also said that while standing outside the bus, Walters and Mast had a verbal confrontation. The report states, “(Walters) stated that a verbal argument ensued with Theresa because apparently Theresa didn’t think she had done anything wrong.”
David Barnes, spokesperson for Kokomo-Center Schools, said once the bus was safely stopped, the swim coach evacuated the student-athletes into a second bus that was carrying the boys swim team to the same event.
“The student-athletes and coaches were transferred safely to another bus, which transported them safely to their event,” said Barnes in a press release. “While no students were impacted by this unfortunate situation created by an individual driver’s decision, all student-athletes and available parents were updated concerning the situation at the conclusion of their athletic event.”
After the student-athletes were safely moved to the second bus, and following the argument with the swim coach, Mast drove back to Kokomo – against the wishes of Kokomo-Center officials. Welker’s report says, “After the argument, Theresa got back on the bus and drove off before anyone could say anything to her and began heading back to Kokomo.”
Barnes said, “Kokomo-Center Transportation Department officials tried and failed to contact the driver to inform (her) another driver would come for the bus. The driver failed to respond and elected to return to Kokomo with no passengers aboard.”
Corona and Lorazepam mixed
Sheriff deputies located Mast sitting in her yellow school bus parked behind the Gas America at the intersection of US 31 and SR 26 in Kokomo. As Welker approached the bus, he heard her proclaim, “Oh my God, the cops were called.” Deputies conducted a field sobriety test that gave authorities probable cause to detain her for driving while intoxicated after a Portable Breath Tester showed a blood alcohol concentration of .125-percent. Also during the investigation, Mast revealed that she was on several prescription drugs and had consumed one that morning.
“She did state that she was currently taking several types of prescribed medications and that she did take one of her Lorazepam this morning before picking up the school bus,” Welker said in his report. “I asked her if any of these prescribed medications state that you should not operate heavy machinery or a vehicle while taking and she stated the Lorazepam says that she is not supposed to.”
In fact, Welker states he found a prescription pill bottle for Lorazepam in Mast’s purse. His report said the pill container “was clearly labeled that alcohol increased the effects of this medication.”
Mast consented to a blood alcohol test at St. Joseph Hospital, which returned a much-higher blood alcohol concentration of .20-percent, well beyond the .08 limit allowed to operate a motor vehicle in the state of Indiana. During her interview with Deputy Welker, Mast said she, “only had three bottles of Corona (beer)” and “she stated that she had (been drinking) last night but that she hadn’t been this morning.”
D Felony OWI, endangering a minor
Rogers said Mast is scheduled to appear before a judge on Dec. 6 via a video arraignment from the Howard County Criminal Justice Center. She has been charged with one count A Misdemeanor Operating a Vehicle While Intoxicated Endangering a Person, one count A Misdemeanor Operating a Vehicle with an ACE of .15 or more, and one count D Felony Operating a Vehicle While Intoxicated Endangering a Minor.
Rogers said Mast does not have a previous criminal history and he cannot remember investigating a case like this during his long law enforcement career. Because this incident involved children under the age of 18, the Indiana Department of Child Protective Services is also investigating and additional charges, including child neglect, could be forthcoming.
“It is unusual for us to deal with this situation and I am sure, to the (coach) who wasn’t a law enforcement officer, this was a very unusual situation too,” said the Sheriff. “We have been in contact with state CPS because there were minors on the bus and that does fall into the category of a possible neglect situation with the minors that were traveling on the bus.”
The arrest comes nearly four years after another incident where Lady Wildkat swimmers were put in harm’s way. Former Kokomo swim coach Brian Hindson was arrested in February 2008 on federal child pornography charges after he secretly videotaped student-athletes in the girls swimming locker room. He pleaded guilty to 16 charges and is currently serving a 33-year sentence for taping 11 female swimmers undressing in KHS facilities.
Based on the Kokomo-Center investigation, the Board of School Trustees terminated Mast at its regularly scheduled board meeting Monday night.
“Kokomo-Center officials express their deepest apologies for the decision made by this individual,” concluded Barnes.
HOWARD COUNTY SHERIFF DEPARTMENT
Excerpts from Supplementary Report
Written by Deputy Michael Welker
Celena Hawk informed me that her and her mother and father were following behind the girls bus. The bus went off the roadway and then back across into the on-coming lane of traffic. She stated that “it was the scariest thing she ever witnessed.” She informed me that her mother and father both witnessed this as well and were very sacred for their grand daughter (who was onboard).
(KHS) girls swim coach Donita Walters stated (Mast) was also hitting the brakes very hard which caused some of the papers and the swim supplies to go flying inside the bus. (Mast) yelled back to the girls, “have a party girls, I’ll clean it up.” Then (Mast) turned on the radio very loud and Walters told her twice to turn it down. Every 30 seconds the bus would go off the roadway hitting the rumble strips then back to the opposite side hitting the rumble strips. The girls began squealing each time they would run over them as they were all scared.