By HAYLEY HARMON
6 News Anchor/Reporter
NEWPORT (WATE) - Authorities are releasing more information about the Cocke County school bus driver arrested for operating a bus while intoxicated.
The Cocke County Sheriff's Office says Cheryl Hembree, 39, of Parrottsville, was arrested Monday after deputies found her drinking a beer inside a running school bus.
They say she was a driver for Cocke County High School.
Hembree was arrested around 3 p.m., just 15 minutes before she was set to take a busload of students home.
A short time before the arrest, a concerned citizen called the sheriff's office saying a school bus driver come into the Mobil gas station on Hedrick Road in Newport, bought a can of beer, and then drove away in a Cocke County school bus.
Deputy Sgt. Randy Cutshaw immediately drove to the gas station. That's when he spotted the bus sitting in the parking lot of the Newport Presbyterian Church next door.
He could see driver Cheryl Hembree sitting inside.
"I approached the bus when I got out of my cruiser pretty quickly. That's when she jumped out of the front seat and into the driver's seat," said Cutshaw of the Cocke County Sheriff's Office.
After stepping inside, he found that can of beer sitting on the floor, nearly empty.
"I found a 24 ounce can of Natural Ice Beer, probably 20 ounces missing," said Cutshaw, who is also the School Resource Officer for Cocke County High School.
Cutshaw says he asked her why the beer was there, and he was shocked at her reply.
"She told me that she was nervous because the bus she was driving was four feet longer than what she had been driving," said Cutshaw.
Hembree was about to go pick up Cocke County High School students.
The Mobil gas station where she bought the beer and the church where she drank it sit directly across from the high school.
"We got to her just in time," said Cutshaw.
Hembree's blood alcohol content was .09.
She was charged with one count of DUI and with violating the open container law.
Cocke County Sheriff Armando Fontes says drinking and driving is inexcusable for anyone, but especially for someone who is responsible for the safety of children.
"Not only putting their life in danger, but the lives of many children in danger," said Fontes.
Local parents say they just can't believe it.
"It's really sickening to know that you can't even trust a school bus driver to get your children home safely without facing DUI charges. It's pitiful," said Pamela Wines of Newport, a mother of four. "I'm glad they caught in time before she was actually en route with those children."
Cutshaw says for people with commercial drivers licenses like Hembree, the BAC limit is .04, so by those standards, she was more than twice the legal limit.
The Sheriff's office has been told by the Cocke County School System that Hembree's career as a bus driver with the county is over.
Hembree's bond was set at $5,000. She posted bail on Tuesday.
The judge over her case has also ordered an interlock device be placed on her personal car.