EASTON — Joseph Johnson, 45, of Delaware pleaded guilty to 32 counts of driving under the influence while transporting a minor on Thursday, July 28 at Talbot County Circuit Court.
Johnson was sentenced to 15 months in the Talbot County Detention Center and two years of supervised probation. He will also be required to complete alcohol evaluation treatment.
The maximum sentence for driving under the influence while transporting a minor is two years and a $2,000 fine.
The charges stemmed from an incident that occurred on Nov. 18, 2015, when Maryland State Police found a charter bus on the side of the road in Trappe on Route 50. Police said they were already on the lookout for a bus after receiving 911 calls about one being seen driving all over the road.
Johnson was identified as the driver of the bus, which contained 32 students and 10 adults from Bennett Middle School in Wicomico County. The children were on their way back from a field trip to Calvert Cliffs.
On the trip back to the school, the bus made a stop in Annapolis to switch drivers, which is where Johnson took over.
According to the State’s Attorney, a few of the adults noticed that the bus was weaving in and out of the middle of the lane. One of the parents asked Johnson if he was alright, to which he replied that he was fine, police said. A few of the other adults called 911 while one of them approached Johnson and asked if he could pull over so she could step out and get some air.
When police made contact with Johnson on the bus, they said they detected the odor of alcohol on his breath, and he was then given a field sobriety test that he was unable to complete.
After being taken in, his blood alcohol level was tested and revealed a 0.26 blood alcohol content, which is more than three times the level for being under the influence of alcohol under Maryland law.
“This defendant and all persons on board that bus were extremely lucky that the more serious results of a collision or other disaster did not occur,” Talbot County State’s Attorney Scott Patterson said. “To operate that bus under his level of intoxication was bad enough, to have a bus load of children aboard is the precise reason the Maryland legislature created a sentence twice that of the one which could be given for mere driving under the influence.”
Johnson is currently in an alcohol addiction counseling program, and his mother Doris Johnson was present in court to speak in his favor.
“I want to extend our remorse, anguish and anxiety to the parents, teachers, students and state for what happened that day,” Doris Johnson said. “My son is a very caring person, but we understand there are always consequences for our actions.”
Doris Johnson said they would like to extend their apologies as a family to those who were affected by this incident.
Johnson’s only prior record is a driving while intoxicated charge from 1994, and he has no other criminal record. Character letters from his friends and coworkers were also provided to the judge.
Johnson said that what happened on that day was the worst decision of his life, and he truly apologizes for it.
“You are lucky that you have a very substantial and strong network of people helping you,” said Talbot County Circuit Court Judge Stephen Kehoe before handing down the sentencing.