Adams 12 school bus driver was 3 times DUI limit when he drove football team, hitting parked truck

Prior substance abuse cost driver nursing license

WESTMINSTER, Colo. - An Adams 12 school bus driver was nearly three times over the DUI limit when he drove 37 members of a freshman football team to and from a game, straddling two lanes of traffic and hitting a parked pickup when the bus returned to Mountain Range High School, according to court records.

Burton Carpenter, 57, was arrested by Westminster police after the yellow school bus careened back into the high school parking lot, hitting a black Toyota Tundra pickup truck at about 12 p.m. on Sept. 21.

The real question is why Adams 12 officials hired Carpenter in July 2012 to be a bus driver?

Carpenter was forced to surrender his registered nursing license in June. A State Board of Nursing investigation found in early 2012 he'd written in patients' "narcotics control" charts that he'd given painkiller medications to 10 patients at Broomfield Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, but all the patients denied requesting or receiving pain medications.

Carpenter was fired from the nursing facility in April 2012 and admitted to state investigators "that he has a substance use disorder," according to the nursing board's license relinquishment order. A 2011 state investigation at a Boulder nursing home raised questions about whether Carpenter had falsified records about giving a painkiller to a patient there.

Adams 12 spokesman Joe Ferdani said the district did a background check on Carpenter using local, state and federal law enforcement databases, and "there was nothing in the backgrounds checks that would preclude him from employment."


7NEWS reporter Russell Haythorn asked why the district didn't know about Carpenter losing his nursing license over substance abuse?

"There's numerous regulatory agencies that look after various industries, in particular the nursing industry. It's not something that is related to the scope of that individual's employment," Ferdani said.

Asked if the bus driver's arrest will make the district review its hiring practices,  Ferdani said they're always looking to improve their practices."

On the day of Carpenter's DUI arrest, witnesses told police of a frightening 10-mile, post-game return trip from Prairie View High School in Henderson to Mountain Range High School in Westminster.

Coach Keith Chavez said Carpenter failed to stop at railroad crossing at on 120th Avenue, almost hit a vehicle while changing lanes and needed to be directed to the Mountain Range parking lot, according to an arrest affidavit.

Coach Bryan McClure said the bus driver was straddling both lanes of traffic for most of trip home. A couple in a car following the bus also said Carpenter was driving erratically.

A police officer investigating the bus crash with the pickup wrote that he could smell alcohol "emanating from the bus" when he stepped onboard the bus. The officer said Carpenter, who was still sitting in the driver's seat, had slurred speech and bloodshot eyes.

When the officer asked the bus driver what happened, Carpenter replied, he had "drank a little bit." When the officer asked what he'd been drinking, the driving said, "a little vodka this morning," according to the affidavit.

A witness told police that Carpenter admitted he'd been drinking vodka from a 32-ounce Gatorade bottle.

Carpenter was so unstable on his feet, when he tried to exit the bus he stumbled down the stairs, catching himself on the side of the bus, the officer wrote in the affidavit.

The officer wrote that Carpenter was unable to perform a voluntary roadside sobriety test and the officer stopped it for the man's safety.

Police said a breath-test showed Carpenter had a blood-alcohol level of .213 -- almost three times the .08 threshold for a drunken driving violation in Colorado.

Carpenter, who was suspended by the district after his arrest, was fired on Oct. 9. 

He is charged with 37 counts of child abuse involving reckless endangerment -- one for each student passenger -- along with four counts of reckless endangerment for the coaches onboard the bus. He's also charged with DUI, careless driving, lane use violation and failing to stop at a railroad crossing.

He remains in Adams County Jail on $4,000 bond. Carpenter declined a 7NEWS interview request on Thursday.

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