Phillip Ronald Henry says he loved the kids that rode his Murray County school bus.

“I always went out of the way to see to their safety,” Henry said. “I told them, ‘Your safety means more to me than my safety.’”

Henry, 48, of Highway 225 in Chatsworth, is charged with DUI (drugs) and 22 counts of child endangerment by DUI for a March 23 wreck that sent several students to the hospital.

While he declined to talk about the criminal charges, Henry said Wednesday night things being said about him, such as that he was driving erratically just before the wreck, have hurt him.

Just a month before the wreck, his best friend died, he said.

“It’s been real hard,” said Henry, who is out of jail on a $19,900 bond.

The Murray County Board of Education is expected to discuss Henry’s employment status at its meeting Monday night, said Dean Donehoo, director of administrative services for the school system. Henry has been on paid administrative leave since the wreck.

Donehoo said school officials tested Henry for drugs after the wreck and the tests came back negative. But those tests do not detect hydrocodone, he said.

Blood tests taken by the Georgia State Patrol after the wreck detected the drug.

Henry had passed five random drug screens since he began driving the bus in 2001, Donehoo said. The day of the wreck, Henry was taking children to Spring Place Elementary School. All but one of the students taken to the hospital were treated and released the day of the wreck. One girl stayed at T.C. Thompson Children’s Hospital in Chattanooga overnight.

A driver with a Dalton taxi company said Wednesday he worked with Henry for 12 years and that Henry was let go from the taxi company after he had a wreck. The driver said Henry told the company’s owner he “passed out” for a second before side-swiping a sign.

“The first time we saw the story (about Henry’s wreck with the school bus) we all questioned how he got a job driving a bus,” the man said. “But he was a real good guy. We were friends for a long time.”

Henry admitted he had closed his eyes for a second and hit the sign.

Donehoo said the school system does a basic background check and checks three years of driving history if the driver has a commercial driver’s license. Taxi drivers are not required to have a commercial driver’s license.

“I can’t immediately verify if that (taxi driving) reference was checked because Dale Beavers was the transportation director when Ron Henry was hired,” Donehoo said.

Donehoo said no wrecks showed up on Henry’s background check.

Henry is also charged with driving too fast for conditions, failure to notify an owner upon striking an object and two counts of failure to drive within a single lane.

Henry said he is waiting to see what will happen to the job he loved.

“I told those kids I am willing to lay down my life for you,” Henry said. “I went out of my way for them.”

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