Four School Bus Mechanics Suspended Pending Investigation As Escapee Remains At-large

Four Jefferson County Department of Education employees have been suspended without pay following the escape of a prisoner on work detail. Justin Allen, Jr. Shults, Bryan Drinnen and Eugene Ogle, all employed as mechanics with the Jefferson County School System and all located at the bus garage, received letters dated September 20, 2019 notifying them of their suspension without pay following the September 19,2019 incident at the bus garage where inmate Jason Carr, who was assigned to wash buses, escaped around 11am driving a school system vehicle.

Deputies with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department investigated the incident after it was discovered that Carr was not on site. Initially, it was believed that the inmate left on foot but that information was incorrect, as it was discoved that a vehicle had been stolen from the lot.

The four mechanics were called into the Sheriff’s Department late Thursday evening for what they believed to be “routine” questioning. Director of Jefferson County Schools Johnston stated that he was on site for the interviews. According to the suspension letter from Johnston to each of the four mechanics, he informed each Thursday evening that they were suspended without pay pending an investigation. In a press release from the Director received Monday, September 23, 2019 the suspension will continue until investigations from the Sheriff’s Department and the Jefferson County School’s Human Resource Department are finalized. At that time, a determination will be made regarding the suspension. Director Johnston stated that, at this time, there is nothing to indicate that any of the four employees participated in the escape.

The letter of suspension received by the four mechanics stated that the reason for suspension was

“guidelines/procedures for appropriate supervision of inmates were overlooked and/or disregarded”…

“potential violations of state law involving the use of inmate labor and the misuse of company time/ resources”. Jefferson County Sheriff Coffey stated that the investigation is ongoing and the inmate has not been found. In regard to the mechanics, the Sheriff stated that the investigation is still open and he is aware of the suspension of the four employees. He said that he is hopeful to conclude his investigation by the end of the week. The school system has not put a time line on their internal investigation. Three of the four mechanics were doing double duty as both morning and evening bus drivers due to a system shortage of drivers. The fourth mechanic was also bound to overtime as policy demands that a mechanic be on duty when buses are on the road.

According to information provided by the Department of Education, management of inmates was not a part of the job description for the position of mechanic. Sheriff Coffey stated that persons in charge of inmates on work detail receive around four to up to eight hours of training and a policy handbook. He stated that following Thursday’s escape, those that use inmate labor were called into his department to refresh the rules and policies. Information provided to the Jefferson County Post regarding training hours indicated that none of the mechanics had reviewed the management policies since the previous prisoner escape during the construction of White Pine School where two prisoners stole a vehicle and had been gone for several hours before they were discovered missing.

The fate of the four mechanics is currently on hold as both investigations continue. Johnston stated in both the suspension letter and his press statement that suspension without pay is School Board policy and that a Director cannot suspend with pay.

Source: K. Depew, News Director