Wednesday, September 29, 2004

School bus driver gives hunter a ride - 'So?' residents say

By Roger Alford
The Associated Press

ULYSSES - In rural eastern Kentucky, where it's hardly unusual to find folks carrying shotguns in hunting season, the suspension of a school bus driver for giving one such hunter a ride has many parents asking: What's the big deal?

Lawrence County School Superintendent Jeff May said he's been swamped with calls from people rallying in support of bus driver Kathy Laney, who allowed a squirrel hunter on board with a 20-gauge shotgun.

"Ninety-nine percent of the parents and community members have voiced their support for her and are asking me to bring her back," he said. "I'm seeking advice on this one. We will have to look into it and I will have to make a decision."

May said that Laney, a bus driver for about six years, stopped on her route to school Sept. 15 to give 67-year-old Ralph Music a ride past some threatening dogs that were in the road.

Laney was apologetic for what she called a lapse in judgment. But she added that she knew Music, knew he was harmless and wouldn't have done anything to endanger the 10 youngsters on her bus - a group that included her own children and Music's grandson.

"I know I made a mistake," she said. "I didn't realize he had a gun. I knew he was holding something. I thought it was a cane."

Music would only say that he was going squirrel hunting when he got on the bus.

"I want this thing blowed over," he said. "I don't want to comment on it no more."

The episode has sparked heated debate in this county of 16,000 just across the state line from West Virginia. The rules are different here, especially during squirrel season, when hunters are a familiar sight.

Ronnie Blevins, the parent of three children who ride the bus, said the incident has been blown out of proportion.

"I've known Ralph all my life. He's a good man, a churchgoing man and he would never hurt anyone," he said. As for Laney, "I'd like to get her back on the bus. She's a good driver and everyone likes her."

Not all parents were so forgiving.

Beth Chapman, who had three children on the bus, said she is upset with the bus driver and surprised that others don't share her feelings.

"I'm disappointed with the other parents," she said. "She should have known better than to pick up a hitchhiker, even if he wasn't carrying a gun."

Laney reported the incident as soon as she returned to the bus garage.

Rules forbid her from allowing anyone on the bus.

Until May makes his decision on her case, she remains suspended without pay.

"Every family on her bus route, except one, has signed a petition asking for her to come back," May said.

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