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Official: Bus driver in fatal crash wasn't drunk

Prosecutors say the driver of a charter bus that crashed earlier this month in northern California wasn't drunk or on drugs at the time.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Toxicology tests show that the driver of a charter bus that crashed on a rural Northern California road, killing nine, was not drunk or on drugs at the time, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Quintin Watts, 52, was taken into law enforcement custody after he was released Tuesday morning from the hospital where he had been recovering since the Oct. 5 crash. He was being held on a suspected parole violation at a Tracy prison while authorities continued their investigation.

The California Highway Patrol initially arrested Watts on suspicion of driving under the influence after the bus overturned on a two-lane road. Many of the 42 passengers heading to Colusa Casino Resort were elderly Laotians, and some remain hospitalized.

Watts, who previously had served time on various drug, theft and weapons charges, was a longtime truck driver, but had been unable to find a trucking job since being released from jail, according to his mother.

Family never believed DUI reports
Watts' mother, Chaney Mae Watts, 77, of Stockton, said her family never believed reports that he had been driving under the influence. She said her son fell into a diabetic coma and regained consciousness only a few days ago.

"We're all really sorry that the accident happened," she said. "When they said DUI, it wasn't the boy I know. It wasn't the boy I raised."

Chaney Mae Watts noted that her son had a history of health problems related to diabetes, including a trip to the hospital last spring when he appeared impaired because of low blood sugar.

Colusa County District Attorney John Poyner said Tuesday that the toxicology tests came back negative.

"At this point I don't know if the bus was defective. I just know he didn't have any drugs or alcohol in his system," Poyner said. "It could be anything from an accident that is very unfortunate or if he committed gross negligence that could lead to manslaughter charges. I don't know if he fell asleep."

Parole board to consider violation
Watts was being held on suspicion of violating terms of his parole by driving without the proper license to carry more than 10 passengers, said Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

A parole board will determine whether Watts would have to serve additional time for the violation. He was on parole for a 2007 conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Watts told his family that he had been training to drive a bus, and the day of the crash was his first one behind the wheel, she said. The owner of the bus was among those killed.

Chaney Mae Watts said she spoke to her son for the first time since the crash by phone on Sunday. She said the first words he said to her: "Momma, you know I'm sorry."