By Mike Fletcher
Tribune crime reporter
Former Kokomo School bus driver Theresa Mast is headed to jail.
A sheriff deputy handcuffed Mast, 57, and led her to the Howard County jail Friday after Judge William Menges sentenced her to the maximum by law of three years in prison on a Class D felony.
Mast pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges of operating a vehicle while intoxicated and a Class D felony OWI endangering minors and admitted she was both drunk and medicated as she drove the girls swim team south on U.S. 31 in Hamilton County Dec. 3, 2011. Her blood-alcohol level tested .20, nearly three times the legal limit of .08.
No one was injured and a coach managed to get Mast to pull the bus over after witnessing her erratic driving. The Kokomo school board fired Mast days after her arrest.
Despite the maximum penalty, Mast will serve less than a year in jail since she was given credit for 10 days served in jail and a little more than a year of pretrial in-home detention since her arrest. In addition, Menges suspended her driver’s license for two years, which also is the maximum suspension by law.
Due to Indiana’s double jeopardy law, Menges could only sentence Mast to one of the three charges, which angered some parents.
One parent, Margaret Gates, wanted to see Mast serve 14 times that amount since she put 14 students’ lives in danger.
“She should be charged 14 times — one for each student,” Gates said. “She should not ever be allowed to be on the road again.”
Another parent, Celena Hawk, who was driving behind the bus, testified she saw the bus weaving all over the road and feared for the kids’ safety.
“I felt very helpless,” said Hawk. “I was scared to death. I wanted to get my daughter off that bus. It was very frightening to see the kids looking out the window helpless.”
As for the sentence, Hawk wanted Menges to send a strong message by giving Mast as much time as possible.
“No time is justified,” said Hawk. “We should set an example for our kids. She endangered the lives of all those children.”
Jennifer Oldaker, a student who was on the bus, said she doesn’t have any lasting affects from the ordeal, but said she was in fear.
“We were all scared,” she said. “We didn’t know what was happening. One student next to me said ‘we’re all going to die.’ You don’t get over that.”
Menges explained that the law does not allow prosecutors to charge Mast with 14 individual counts unless its an OWI resulting in death case.
Mast’s attorney, Stephanie Doran, requested Menges give her time served and probation due to her remorse and the fact that she does not have a prior criminal record.
Mast also took the stand and apologized to the parents in attendance.
“I regretfully hate the fact that I jeopardized the lives the students, coaches and myself,” she said, tearfully. “If I could change, or fix what happened I would. I only hope the students, coaches and parents can forgive me some day.”
Mast also voluntarily said she would not try to get a CDL, commercial driver’s license, ever again and admitted herself into a rehab clinic after the arrest. Mast completed intensive out patient rehab at Trinity and continues to seek help for her alcoholism.