On the last day Ken Whetstone ever drove a school bus, he decided enough was enough. He had just delivered his noon load of school kids, and as he braked to stop at a traffic light in West Valley City, he noticed a vulgar sticker on the tailgate of the pickup truck in front of him.
The sticker said — well, never mind. It was so vulgar, it can't been written here. Let's just say that it included a word that starts with an F.
Whetstone, a 54-year-old who had been driving buses for 25 years, was disgusted. Wasn't it bad enough that people were assaulted by TV and movie vulgarity? At least then he had the option of walking out of the theater or turning off the TV. But this was unavoidable. He couldn't go on a drive without being confronted with it.
He certainly didn't want his seven grandkids to see such a sticker. Or the kids on his bus. As he waited for the light to change, he noticed that a corner of the sticker – he would later realize it was a magnet – was turned up. He could easily remove it. And just like that he was moving – out the door of his empty bus, walking to the back of the pickup, plucking the sticker off the tailgate, returning to his bus and tossing the crumpled sticker in a trash can.
Whetstone was already sitting in his bus again when the driver of the pickup truck got out of his vehicle. Then he thought better of it and climbed back into his truck and drove off. At one point, according to Whetstone, the driver waved a tire iron at him as they drove, and Whetstone responded by raising a pipe of his own. Then Whetstone turned his bus onto a side street to avoid a potential confrontation and drove to his next stop.
But that wasn't the end of it.
The driver of the pickup — Whetstone calls him "a kid" — called police, who called the dispatcher, who called Whetstone. Five police cars showed up at his bus, as if he'd just pulled the Brinks heist. He was cited with a class C misdemeanor for disorderly conduct.
"The officers told me that it was a person's right to display that sticker," says Whetstone.
The other driver claimed that Whetstone had followed him into a hospital parking lot, got out of the bus and threatened him with a pipe — "although surveillance tape showed I was never there and that he pulled into the parking lot alone," says Whetstone. "We didn't even speak. We were never even that close to each other. By the time he got out of his truck, I was in my bus and in my seat. There was never a confrontation."
Whetstone was fired by the school district despite a flawless performance during his 25 years of service. He had maintained a perfect driving record both personally and professionally. He was punctual, took care of the kids and kept his bus clean.
"I love that job," he says. "I planned to work for another eight years. Honestly, it never felt like I was going to work. I enjoyed it."
According to Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley, "Mr. Whetstone violated school policy and as a result was released from his employment."
The violations consisted of leaving the bus unattended in traffic and leaving his route. The district also claimed that Whetstone had said he would do it again, although he denies it.
The district eventually agreed to grant Whetstone retirement status, which cost him $42,000 (to buy out the last five years). He also had to pay $3,000 in attorney fees for a civil suit, which landed him in court last December, two months after the sticker incident.
"When I went to court, the judge heard my story and evidence with incredulousness as to why I was even there," says Whetstone. The case was dismissed.
"I'm not a hero, but I'm glad I pulled (the sticker) off," he says. "I made a statement. It hurt me more than anyone else."
Whetstone says the police were wrong, that vulgar stickers are against the law. He cites Utah code 10-8-50 — "Lewd behavior." f) using obscene or profane language in a place or under circumstances which could cause a breach of the peace or good order of the city."
In the months since the incident, Whetstone has reflected on a quote from Edmund Burke: "There is however, a limit at which forbearance ceases to be virtue." He also likes to quote Tolstoy's "War and Peace:" "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."
A couple of weeks ago, Whetstone saw another vulgar bumper sticker while he was driving. "Should I do it?" he asked his wife.
"Probably not," she said.
This time he did nothing.