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Defense Attorney: Driver Who Crashed Bus Suffered From Fibromyalgia

By Mark Ackerman

LYONS, Colo. (CBS4) - CBS4 has learned the St. Vrain Valley School District has fired school bus driver Elizabeth Burris 10 weeks after she crashed a school bus.

Last December, Burris rolled the bus she was driving outside of Lyons. Eight students were onboard at the time of the crash. Five children were hospitalized, two were seriously injured. Burris was charged with driving under the influence and child abuse. According to the arrest affidavit, Burris allegedly told state troopers that she was taking six different prescription drugs at the time of the crash.

SCHOOL BUS AX  (1) Elizabeth Burris
Elizabeth Burris in court in December (credit: CBS)

Burris's lawyer Sarah Schielke says her client was under a doctor's care for Fibromyalgia. She says Burris took the prescription drug Lyrica for "more than a decade," "only at night" and "never before driving the bus." She says the school district knew about her condition and her doctor knew Burris was a bus driver before prescribing the drug.

Elizabeth Burris
Elizabeth Burris (credit: Boulder Sheriff/CBS4)

LINK: Elizabeth Burris' Arrest Affidavit (PDF File)

According to the Food and Drug Administration, patients taking Lyrica are told, "Do not drive a car, work with machines, or do other dangerous activities until you know how LYRICA affects you."

LINK: Lyrica Medication Guide (PDF File)

Schielke says Burris passed a urine drug screen for illicit drugs at the hospital after the crash. She also says Burris complied with and passed mandatory random drug tests administered by the school district.

Federal guidelines require school districts and other motor carrier pools to randomly test 50 percent of their drivers for drugs and 25 percent of their drivers for alcohol each year.

(credit: CBS)

A CBS4 investigation obtained random drug test results from a number of different school districts. Over the last three years, two other drivers failed drug tests at SVVSD where Burris worked (SVVSD: 2013 | 2014 | 2015), Douglas County had five positive tests, Jefferson County had two, and Aurora only one.

Over the same period of time, Denver Public Schools has had five drug tests come back positive, including one for cocaine.

"We've seen barbiturates, we've seen marijuana," said Denver Public Schools Safety Manager Ronnie Forrest. "THC is the biggest culprit."

Elizabeth Burris' bus crash (credit: CBS)

Forrest says any positive test is ground for immediate firing.

"Not only do you not meet DPS standards, you are participating in substance abuse and you can't work here," he said.

John Adams, president of the union for Denver Public Schools bus drivers, says he understands the need for testing.

John Adams is interviewed by CBS4's Brian Maass (credit: CBS)

"If a person does that I'm ashamed of them. I think they're ashamed of themselves," said Adams. "But I think the people applying for these jobs and doing these jobs care about what they are doing and they know better than to go out and jeopardize themselves, the children and the public."

From all of the reports obtained by CBS4, roughly one percent of the bus drivers tested positive for drugs. None of the bus drivers tested positive during random alcohol tests.

Burris is due back in court in April for her arraignment. Her lawyer says she is confident Burris will be exonerated.

Mark Ackerman is a Special Projects Producer at CBS4. Follow him on Twitter @ackermanmark

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