Ex-school bus driver charged with DUI thought she was OK after birthday drinks

A former Walton County school bus driver said she was celebrating her birthday the night before she was charged with DUI while driving a busload of children, according to new audio obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The audio was recorded Aug. 21, the day authorities removed Carole Ann Etheridge from her bus at Loganville Middle School after someone reported erratic driving.

In the recording, Etheridge told a school official that she “just had a couple beers and a couple shots of tequila.”

She said she thought she was OK when she woke up, took a shower and ate breakfast.

A Breathalyzer administered by Walton sheriff’s Lt. Artie Rodriguez proved otherwise, officials said.

“That little bitty sample you gave me, no matter how small it was, just registered,” Rodriguez said in the recording.

Etheridge, 49, said she was “just shocked that it registered at all.”

Rodriguez followed the Breathalyzer with a field sobriety test, during which Etheridge said she was nervous and too weak to successfully stand on one leg.

“Because of what’s going on here,” Rodriguez said, “you’re going to be placed under arrest for DUI and putting all those little babies’ safety at risk.”

There were 31 students on the bus. Sixteen were under the age of 14, Walton schools spokeswoman Callen Moore said.

Etheridge was charged with one count of DUI and 16 counts of endangering a child, according to the Walton sheriff’s office. She was fired the same day, according to the school district.

At the time of her arrest, Etheridge had a large bottle of tequila, small bottles of vodka and prescription pills in her purse, The AJC previously reported.

Bottles of tequila and vodka were found in Carole Ann Etheridge's purse the day she drove a Walton County school bus, the sheriff’s office said. (Credit: Walton County Sheriff's Office)

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A toxicology report showed Etheridge had a .043 blood alcohol level. That's over the limit of .04 for commercial drivers.

An administrator said in the audio recording that Etheridge made a bad decision and never would have been able to take it back if she had hit a child on the road.

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