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'I'm sorry for what I did': Former Green Bay school bus driver charged with OWI after field trip

Bus Driver James Nelsonpng.png
Posted at 3:55 PM, Apr 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-20 23:49:08-04

GREEN BAY (NBC 26) — A former Green Bay school bus driver, accused of drinking during a school field trip, is now facing a criminal charge in connection with the incident.

James Martin Nelson, 70 of Green Bay, has been charged with OWI with a child in the vehicle. This is his first offense. He was formally charged and made his first appearance in Brown County court Wednesday.

"I was just trying to say your honor that I'm sorry for what I did," Nelson said to the judge. "I did some harm more to myself than for Lamers [Bus Lines], and I did not want to put them through any more difficulty than they have. I worked there five years with an impeccable record. This was a bad choice of discretion."

Court documents reveal more details about what happened during the field trip.

According to a criminal complaint, Nelson had driven students to Madison for a school trip for the day on April 18. As the bus returned to Green Bay, school staff called the police because they suspected Nelson had been drinking.

The complaint said school staff indicated they had located some beer in a cooler on the bus. When a police officer arrived and questioned Nelson, the criminal complaint states Nelson admitted that he drank two beers while in Madison at about Noon on the bus by himself while it was parked. He said that he then drove the bus at about 1 p.m. to transport the students back to Green Bay.

According to statements in the complaint, the police officer conducted field sobriety tests with Nelson and administered a Preliminary Breath Test. The complaint says the PBT came back with a reading of .056.

The complaint said due to the CDL 0.00 Blood Alcohol Concentration restriction, police believed they had enough probable cause that Nelson was over a 0.00 BAC. Police then arrested Nelson for operating a commercial motor vehicle with a BAC of .04 or more with a minor or child.

Police also took Nelson to a local hospital for blood testing and the complaint says they found that Nelson had a blood alcohol concentration between .04 and .08.

Authorities spoke with some of the school staff who were on the bus during the field trip. According to court documents, staff said they noticed while traveling back to Green Bay, the bus was sometimes drifting back and forth. The bus tires hit the rumble strips about five times on the way from Madison back to Green Bay, the complaint says. It was a windy day, and some of the teachers and chaperones suspected that the wind was a factor.

Additionally, the complaint said school staff told authorities that a student had picked a beer can up off the ground while on the bus. Staff discussed what they should do and one staffer eventually headed up to the front of the bus and spoke with the bus driver a little. The complaint said she did not notice any obvious signs of impairment.

According to the complaint, the teacher could see that there was a small cooler tipped over beneath the bus driver’s seat. The lid of the cooler was open, and she could see four cans inside of the cooler. The complaint said all of the cans were in koozies, but the cans looked to the teacher like “Tall Boy” cans of Budweiser. All of the cans appeared to be empty, the complaint said.

Statements recorded in the complaint said the security director for the Green Bay Public Schools boarded the bus after the field trip and saw the cooler. He reached inside the open cooler and observed that there were ice packs that were still cold inside it. The complaint said the cooler said the name “Nelson” on it. The complaint said the security director believed that the empty beer cans found in the cooler were likely not leftover from when the bus had been used as a party bus the weekend before.

"Lamers Bus Lines has a zero-tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol, and the driver has been terminated, effective immediately," Nelson's former employer said in a statement sent to NBC 26.

If convicted, he could potentially be sentenced to up to six months behind bars and face a fine of up to $1,100. He could also lose his driving privileges for not less than one year or more than eighteen months.

Court records state that Nelson is a veteran. During his initial appearance Wednesday, a judge ordered a $1,000 signature bond for Nelson and ordered he to maintain absolute sobriety, not operate commercial vehicles or frequent taverns or liquor stores.

Nelson has no prior criminal offenses, according to the District Attorney. His next court appearance is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. May 25.