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Inspection Records Called Into Question After Church Bus Driver Charged With DUI

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A magical trip to a Bulls game for some youth basketball players from Gary was perfect until the bus ride home.

That's when police say the driver, 82-year-old Wilton Carr, was driving east in the right lane of the Indiana Toll Road and drove straight off the road, crashing into the embankment and sending the bus full of passengers flying.

Wilton Carr
(Credit: Lake County Sheriff's Office)

Police said the 82-year-old was arrested for driving under the influence.

A coach on the bus described what happened late Monday night as two minutes of chaos.

A group of more than 40 kids with the Gary-based Above The Rim Youth Sports Foundation attended the Bulls game at the United Center and even got a chance to be on the court at halftime.

Toll Road Bus Crash
A church bus crashed on the Indiana Toll Road on the way back from the United Center in Chicago on Feb. 25, 2019. Police said the driver was intoxicated. (Credit: Indiana State Police)

Indiana State Police said while they were headed home one of the chaperones on their bus noticed something was wrong with the driver.

One of the coaches on the bus said he woke up just before the crash and saw the bus veering off the road.

"I got up, and I kind of grabbed the bus driver. And I told him, I was screaming in his face, 'Stop! Stop! Stop!'" Jason Rhodes said in a phone interview.

The bus, owned by Jesus Saves Missionary Baptist Church in Gary, went off the pavement and onto a gravel embankment between two guard rails on the center median just before the Cline Avenue exit. The front tires ended up completely off the ground.

Everyone on the bus was tossed from their seats.

"My heart was pounding," said Valencia Miller, a fifth grader on the bus. "It felt like a truck slamming into my chest."

"I felt the bus go up and down, so I hit my head on the window," said eighth grader Willie Miller. "We were almost home. He just needed to stop the car."

Akeesha Daniels was waiting to pick up her 15-year-old son at the Village Shopping Center in Gary when she got a call about the crash.

"My son was actually FaceTiming me outside the bus, and I said, 'Xavier, where are you?' He was like, 'Oh, the bus was in a crash,' and I'm looking like, 'A crash where?'" Daniels said. "I was like, oh my God, if this bus would have went, if he would have been going a little faster, the bus would have ended up in the water."

One adult and four children were taken to hospitals after the crash to be treated for leg injuries, and head and neck pain.

bus crash
A church bus crashed on the Indiana Toll Road on the way back from the United Center in Chicago on Feb. 25, 2019. Police said the driver was intoxicated. (Credit: Indiana State Police)

Police said Carr was arrested and taken to the Lake County Jail on four counts of operating while intoxicated.

Rhodes said Above The Rim rented the 1998 Motor Coach Industries bus from Jesus Saves Missionary Baptist Church, and the bus and driver came together.

ISP says Carr has an active CDL license, but CDL drivers are prohibited from consuming any alcohol four hours prior to driving, according.

Carr's blood alcohol level was over .08.

That fact stunned youth basketball coach and dad Will Miller.

"It really was negligence and irresponsibility," he said.

"We invited you to drive us to a Bulls game, and you disrespected us by sitting there drinking," said Valencia.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records show that the bus ministry was cited for five violations during its last inspection in June. One of those violations -- failure to maintain the brakes -- was so serious that it put the bus out of service.

USDOT has no records of any driver inspections with the company. There is a random drug and alcohol testing requirement for drivers like Carr. That is the responsibility of the bus owner, according to ISP. It's still unclear if he was ever randomly tested by his company.

Parents said they are thankful no one was seriously injured.

"That's all I kept saying to myself when it said on the side of that bus 'Jesus Saves.' Oh, Jesus saved everybody," Dianna Darden said.

The church has not responded to phone calls and emails asking for a comment on the crash or whether driver testing was carried out.

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