A school bus driver is charged with driving under the influence of marijuana after students reported smelling the pungent odor of the drug when they boarded the bus for a field trip on Tuesday.
Ali Mahfuz, 63, of Nashua, was arrested and charged with operating under the influence of drugs, operating negligently as to endanger and reckless endangerment.
Police in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, said they were called to Chelmsford High School by school administrators early Tuesday morning after several high school students told a teacher they smelled something strange on the bus. The teacher notified the principal, who boarded the bus with other administrators and smelled the odor of marijuana.
The students were immediately taken off the bus and brought to the school cafeteria.
Upon arrival, police said they were quickly able to determine that the driver, identified as Mahfuz, was under the influence of marijuana.
"I cannot overstate the role played by the students today in ensuring their safety on the roads," Chelmsford police Chief James Spinney said. "They knew something was not right, and they spoke up right away, alerting school administrators. I commend these students for their role in stopping a dangerous situation from unfolding."
While Mahfuz had not driven any of the morning bus routes for the Chelmsford Public Schools on Tuesday, police said he had just finished a route for Greater Lowell Technical School in nearby Tyngsborough before arriving at Chelmsford High. But police don't believe he got high until later.
The bus company, North Reading Transportation Inc., is cooperating with the school department and police on the investigation. Police said a company supervisor was sent to the scene with a new bus and driver to take the students on their field trip.
A spokesperson for North Reading Transportation Inc. said Mahfuz, who has been suspended without pay until the investigation is completed, has been with the company for three years and never failed a drug test. He is currently suspended without pay.
Mahfuz was released following his arraignment Tuesday in Lowell District Court. Bail information was not available, and it was not immediately known if he had an attorney.
In a letter to parents and staff, Chelmsford Superintendent Jay Lang thanked students and police for their actions.
"The safety of our students is a top priority and the actions of this bus driver are completely unacceptable," he said.
Greater Lowell Technical School Superintendent/Director Roger Bourgeois, Tyngsborough Superintendent Michael Flanagan and Tyngsborough police Chief Richard Howe issued a statement saying they are working with their partners in Chelmsford and actively monitoring the ongoing investigation.
"The safety and security of our students is first and foremost on our minds today," the statement said. "While there is much we cannot say, due to the ongoing police investigation, we are confident, based on information that has been presented to us, that the driver did not come under the influence of marijuana until after the morning run and drop off at GLTHS."