Bus driver who crashed with 40 kids, previously pled guilty to meth possession
Atlanta News First Investigates reveals never-before-seen footage from the moments a school bus driver, who police say was drunk, crashed into a ditch with 40 children on board.
PICKENS COUNTY, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - It’s a call no parent wants to get.
“I got a call saying my children was in a ditch on the bus,” said Deann Flowers, recalling her 10-year-old son Peyton and 8-year-old daughter Bella who were on a Pickens County bus that crashed into a ditch after school in August.
“I was very upset,” Flowers said. “It hit me after I seen pictures, that how bad it really was.”
According to the Georgia State Patrol, before police got to the crash, Pickens County Schools brought bus driver Jeffrey Tucker another bus. And Tucker, along with the 40 children on board, were ushered off the bus in the ditch and onto the second bus. Tucker then left and completed the route, instead of waiting for police or paramedics to arrive.
“It doesn’t make sense to me,” Ashley Wilson, whose daughter was also on the bus, said. “Why do it that way? Why go about it that way? Because y’all are covering your butts.”
Atlanta News First Investigates had the same questions as Wilson – so we asked Pickens County Schools for its bus driver policies including post-crash procedures. According to the 2022-2023 Transportation Procedures Manual, “If involved in an accident, notification of EMS and law enforcement may be required.” Bus drivers are told to “Contact bus garage by radio and inform them that you have been involved in an accident and give them your location. At this time, it will be necessary to determine if medical assistance (911) is needed and should be contacted.”
“If that bus hadn’t went off and swerved on the other side, we might not have kids right now,” Wilson added.
At the school bus barn an hour later, Tucker was questioned by an officer who later reported he could “smell the odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from his breath as he spoke.”
Tucker was arrested and charged with driving under the influence, failure to maintain lane and 40 counts of reckless conduct.
“Every single kid he was putting in danger,” Flowers alleged.
Atlanta News First Investigates wanted to see the footage from inside the bus to see if there were signs of visual impairment, but Pickens County Schools would only give us a heavily redacted version of the footage. Atlanta News First Investigates has been suggesting alternative methods of redaction so a clearer picture of events can be presented, while also protecting student privacy rights. Thus far, the school system has not considered those suggestions.
Nonetheless, the video’s audio paints a chaotic picture of the moments before, during and after the crash.
Some children are heard screaming as the crash happens. Shortly after, voices are heard saying, “Are you okay?” and “Is everyone okay?”
Then, Tucker said, “Can y’all please be quiet? I need to hear. Be quiet. We’re okay.”
One of the children even talked directly to bus camera, saying, “Help us, please. Help.”
Parents believe the school system should also be held accountable.
“It might not be their fault that the driver wrecked but there should have been better screenings,” Flowers said.
Atlanta News First Investigates has discovered Tucker, 59, was arrested by a Canton police officer in 2007 after being pulled over. The officer, according to the subsequent police report, found “two hypodermic syringes shoved in the front cushion of the driver’s seat.” Tucker pled guilty to possession of methamphetamine.
Atlanta News First Investigates has attempted to contact Tucker multiple times, even stopping by his home, but he did not answer the door or our request for an interview.
Just days after Tucker’s crash, another Pickens County bus driver – Tammy Decerbo – was also arrested and charged with DUI. According to that incident report, she was “failing to maintain lane” and “performing erratic driving maneuvers.” Deputies suspected her to be under the influence of a substance. When asked if she takes prescription medicines, Decerbo told deputies “yes multiple” and “for various disorders she has.” She failed a field sobriety test. Decerbo was driving her personal car on East Church Street near the Budget Inn in Jasper, after finishing her morning bus route, when she was arrested.
Decerbo has been suspended by Pickens County Schools “until the charges pending against her are resolved.”
SCHOOL DISTRICT RESPONDS
After Tucker and Decerbo were arrested, Pickens County Superintendent Tony Young responded to media outlets with a press release.
Young denied Atlanta News First Investigates’ multiple requests for an interview.
We were given the below statement and when we asked more questions, the district responded saying “we have no further comment beyond what our last press release states.”
Flowers calls the review of “policies, procedures, and protocols” too little, too late.
“They hate riding the bus, like it’s hard to get them on the bus,” Flowers said. “As a parent, I wish I could go pick them up, take them to and from school every day, but I work and I can’t, so I’m stuck.”
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