Dion and Angela Williams wanted the maximum penalty for a former Columbus school-bus driver whose decision to drive the bus while drunk left their 12-year-old son with whiplash and a concussion.
After the driver, Tia Denton, was sentenced yesterday to five days in jail and two years of probation, they accepted the decision with quiet resignation.
“I respect the judge’s decision,” Mrs. Williams said outside the courtroom. “As far as satisfaction, I don’t know yet. We’re still trying to process everything.”
Her husband said he’ll be satisfied “if this never happens again to another Columbus school student.”
There were several children on the bus that Denton was driving while she was drunk. This was the first mention in court that at least one had been injured.
Tia Denton, 51, pleaded guilty in December to misdemeanor charges of drunken driving and endangering children.
Columbus police stopped her on Nov. 25 for driving erratically on the South Side as she was taking students home from Southwood Elementary School. A breath test recorded a 0.216 percent blood-alcohol level. In Ohio, it is illegal to drive at 0.08 percent or above.
Franklin County Municipal Judge Paul Herbert sentenced her to the maximum 180 days in jail on each of the two counts, then suspended all but five days.
In addition to probation, Herbert fined Denton $375 plus court costs and suspended her driver’s license for one year, retroactive to her arrest in November.
Herbert said that his sentence was influenced by Denton’s cooperation with police, her level of remorse and her lack of a prior record.
As a condition of her probation, Denton must spend six months at Maryhaven’s in-patient treatment program for alcohol addiction.
She turned toward the Williamses to apologize.
“I cannot express my regret and my remorse for what I have cost you and your children and families who are not represented here in court,” she said.
She also apologized to the Columbus schools, saying, “They gave me a position of trust and I betrayed it.”
In a statement read in court, the Williamses said that Denton’s erratic driving caused their son’s head to strike the back of his seat and a bus window. Doctors kept him home from school for a month to recover from his injuries, but he still suffers from headaches and insomnia, they said.
“It is by God’s grace that these children ever made it home to their families at all,” Mr. Williams said.
Lara Baker-Morrish, the city’s chief prosecutor, told the judge that jail time was warranted for what she called “the most-egregious form of this offense.”
She said Denton told police that she had been drinking until 3 a.m. before driving her morning route, then bought a bottle of whiskey at 9 a.m. Officers found the partially consumed bottle of Canadian Mist on the bus.
A charge of having an open container of alcohol was dismissed as part of her plea.
Denton quit her bus-driving job in December. She had been hired last summer and previously worked for First Student, the private busing contractor used by the Columbus district before it began running its own busing program again last year.
By John Futty - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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