A central Florida school bus driver faces multiple charges and has been fired after she drove a group of students to her home and staged a fight between two teen girls, authorities said.
Patrice Sanders, 29, has been charged with two counts each of child abuse, child neglect and contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and one count of false imprisonment, the Polk County Sheriff's Office said.
On Thursday afternoon Sanders picked up students from three schools in Bartow – Gause Academy, Summerlin Academy and Bartow High School.
But after a 13-year-old student and a 16-year-old student had an argument on her bus, Sanders intervened, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said at a Friday news conference.
"And all of a sudden the school bus driver says, and I quote, 'This is going to be handled today. They need to fight,'" Judd said. "So she drives this busload of students, of children, to her house on Enterprise Street in Lakeland."
That was 23 miles from where she picked up the students, Judd said.
At her home at 1133 Enterprise St. the several dozen students got off the bus, and Sanders asked the 13-year-old and 16-year-old if they wanted Vaseline to put on their faces, to protect them from being cut, Judd said. The 13-year-old told Sanders that she didn't want to fight, according to the sheriff's office.
Sanders apparently couldn't find the Vaseline, but soon the 16-year-old charged across the front yard and began fighting the 13-year-old, and they fought until the point of exhaustion, Judd said. At one point the driver could be seen jumping up and down and cheering, and students were also cheering and taking video clips, the sheriff said.
“Ladies and gentlemen, when we first learned of this last night we thought, you know, this is so bizarre, it’s got to be true because people can’t make it up," Judd said.
Displaying the mug shot of Sanders at the news conference, Judd addressed the driver.
"You know what I want to say to Patrice? Come on, girl, what are you thinking? How in the world could you allow and promote and encourage children to fight?" he said. "And you’re their bus driver, and you’re responsible for them?”
Once the bus was moving again, the 13-year-old student charged the 16-year-old girl and they fought again, Judd said. Sanders pulled the bus over and let them fight, and after they stopped, she pulled back on the road and started taking the kids to their stops. She told them, "What happens on the bus stays on the bus," Judd said.
It wasn't immediately known whether Sanders has an attorney. She will have a first court appearance via video from the central county jail on Saturday at 8 a.m. Additional charges are forthcoming, Judd said.
The sheriff described the 13-year-old and 16-year-old students as both victims and suspects. They will both be charged with misdemeanor battery for the fight, according to the sheriff's office. But the teens are really victims of the school bus driver, Judd said.
The 13-year-old girl's mother took her to a hospital to be checked out, but she did not have any serious injuries, the sheriff's office said.
Judd said that Sanders worked for the Polk County school district for about eight months. She was a part-time bus driver until about a month ago, when she began working full-time, he said.
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