CEDAR CITY — The arrest of a bus driver preparing to drive students Thursday to a graduation party in Disneyland may have saved many lives.
"This is a great day because we averted a tragedy," Canyon View High School Principal Richard Nielsen said Friday.
The driver was arrested for investigation of DUI and other charges after officers, with the help of a police dog, found drugs in his backpack.
"In my mind, there's a strong likelihood that we (would be) having a mass memorial service instead of celebrating the accomplishments of these kids," Nielsen said.
Canyon View High's graduation ceremony concluded about 10 p.m. Thursday and the new graduates were at the school boarding Utah Trailways buses hired to transport them to Southern California.
"Many of the students were going to participate in the PTA's Grad Night, where we were sending the students down to California. They travel all night, hang out at Disneyland, and enjoy that for the day and then travel back the next night," the principal explained.
Cedar City police and the PTA had arranged to have a police dog sniff the luggage in the four buses before they departed.
"Interestingly enough, the canine indicated on a backpack of one of the drivers of one of these buses," Cedar City Police Sgt. J.R. Robinson said.
Officers located narcotic prescription medications in the driver's backpack and additional prescription medications were located in his pocket, Robinson said. After field sobriety tests were conducted, officers arrested the driver.
Brandon Mark Gillman, 30, of South Jordan, was booked into the Iron County Jail for investigation of DUI, unauthorized possession of a prescription, possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of cocaine.
"He was booked because of the drugs and chemicals found in his system," Robinson said. "Given his performance in those standard field sobriety tests, the officer determined that he was too impaired to safely operate a motor vehicle."
No cocaine was found in the backpack. That potential charge is based on the result of a preliminary field test on a urine sample that was collected, the sergeant said.
The prescription drugs appeared to be Endocet pain relievers. "The officer in his investigation found no evidence that they were" prescribed to Gillman, Robinson said. "His contention was that they are."
Nielsen said the luggage check was conducted to help reassure parents and to provide a training opportunity for the drug-detecting dogs.
"Quite honestly, we've never had them actually hit on any of our kids when we've done searches through the building or cars. We do it just as a routine," he said.
But the principal was more convinced than ever Friday that such searches are a good idea.
"The thing I would worry about the most is I've got 50 kids and chaperones on a bus being driven by somebody that was (arrested) with a DUI ... driving down through the Virgin Narrows or the deserts of Nevada and California," he said. "I am so grateful that we had (police) run through and ultimately averted that tragedy."
Utah Trailways President Richard Maben called Gillman an exemplary employee who has been placed on unpaid suspension pending an investigation. He said his company conducts random drug tests and extensive background checks and did not see anything in his background to cause concern.
Maben said Gillman had been in a Cedar City hotel the night before to make sure he was well rested. He drove to the school in a car and had never been behind the wheel with students.
Following the arrest, another driver was sent and the students were able to continue their trip to Disneyland.
"They're there having a great time now, I know," Nielsen said. "It's something they're going to be able to look back and remember how grateful they could be for being there safe. It's a good day."
Contributing: Randall Jeppesen, Cleon Wall
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company