Former Rhea Co. bus driver pleads guilty in 2018 DUI incident, will serve 30 days in jail

A former Rhea County school bus driver who pleaded guilty to drinking while dozens of children were on his bus will spend the minimum amount of time in jail. (Image of the scene by viewer Lisa Freeman. Mugshot of Michael Ledbetter via the Rhea Co. Sheriff's Department.)

A former Rhea County school bus driver who pleaded guilty to DUI while dozens of children were on his bus will spend the minimum amount of time in jail.

That's according to Assistant District Attorney David Shinn.

It happened on Wednesday, November 28 on Highway 27, just north of Rhea Medical Center. Detective Rocky Potter with the Rhea County Sheriff's Department (RCSD) told us that around 8 a.m., several students texted their parents that the driver of bus 41 was driving erratically. School bus dispatchers contacted the driver, Michael Ledbetter, and told him to pull over and wait for police.

When officers arrived, they gave Ledbetter a field sobriety test, which Detective Potter says the driver failed. Assistant District Attorney David Shinn now tells us Ledbetter had a BAC of .12.

An affidavit about the school bus incident later obtained by NewsChannel 9 says officers also found a straw cut to a short length. Ledbetter told investigators the straw was what his wife used to snort cocaine, but that he had no idea why it was on him.

Rhea County Schools told us that more than 50 children, from elementary to high school, rode the bus Ledbetter was driving that day.

Director of Schools Jerry Levengood told parents in a recorded message that Ledbetter was immediately fired. He told us Ledbetter had been hired in December 2017. According to a personnel file, Ledbetter had received two previous write ups for using "unacceptable language" on his bus route, and a warning letter said that if he had received another write up, he would be taken off the approved drivers list.

On Monday, July 22, Ledbetter took a plea deal, pleading guilty to DUI while accompanied by children under age 18 and reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon.

Shinn tells us that Ledbetter will serve 30 days in jail, and another 18 months of probation. His two sentences will be served concurrently.

This is the minimum amount of time Ledbetter could have spent behind bars. The court documents cite Tennessee law on the punishment for DUI, saying...

"Any person convicted of ANY OFFENSE WHILE ACCOMPANIED BY A CHILD under 18 years of age, the person shall be fined $1,000 in addition to the fine for the DUI offense; and shall be confined for a mandatory minimum period of 30 days, which shall be served in addition to any period of incarceration received for the DUI offense."

According to the court documents, Ledbetter is scheduled to report to jail on Tuesday, July 23.

This is a developing story - depend on us to update you as we learn more.

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