Aspen bus driver allegedly drives drunk | AspenTimes.com

Aspen bus driver allegedly drives drunk

Jeffory Estes

A RFTA bus driver was allegedly driving drunk early Sunday before suspicious supervisors pulled him off a downvalley bus, sources said Tuesday.

Jeffory Estes, 46, of Basalt, admitted to drinking "a couple of shots" and failed roadside sobriety tests after he was stopped by law enforcement officers in Basalt, according to a Pitkin County Sheriff's Office report. He was later charged with DUI and also was cited for driving with a suspended license.

"I'm quite upset with Mr. Estes," said Dan Blankenship, Roaring Fork Transportation Authority general manager. "If something would have happened while Mr. Estes was driving the bus while impaired, it would have been a very serious and unnecessary situation."

Estes, who was driving a bus between Aspen and Blue Lake, first came to the attention of supervisors when he began loading passengers in the wrong spot at Rubey Park, said Paul Taddune, RFTA attorney.

A supervisor told deputies that "Estes was a veteran driver who 'made some rookie mistakes'" and that his "voice sounded slurred on the radio," according to the Sheriff's Office report.

Estes left Rubey Park and headed downvalley, though a supervisor at RFTA's maintenance yard near the Aspen Business Center directed him to stop at the facility on his way downvalley, Taddune said.

It is not clear how many passengers, if any, were on the bus at the time it left Rubey Park, he said. However, Taddune said he thought some riders were aboard because they were transferred to another bus with another driver at the maintenance yard. No passengers were on the bus between Blue Lake and Aspen before Estes arrived at Rubey Park, Taddune said.

Supervisors at the maintenance yard contacted Estes when he arrived, suspected he might be inebriated and took him off the bus, Taddune said. Two supervisors then ushered Estes into a RFTA car for a trip to Aspen Valley Hospital so medical personnel could draw his blood for testing, according to Taddune and the sheriff's report.

But "Estes declined, got out of the vehicle, walked toward the employee parking lot and started to sweep snow off of his personal vehicle," the supervisor told deputies, according to the report.

"(The supervisor said) he saw Estes drive away in the westbound direction on Colorado State Highway 82," according to the report.

The supervisor then called a drunken-driving hotline and reported the make, model and license number of Estes' vehicle about 1 a.m., the report states.

A Pitkin County sheriff's deputy heard the report, called a Basalt police officer and told him to be on the lookout for Estes' 1989 Toyota Tercel station wagon. At about 1:20 a.m., the officer clocked Estes' Toyota going 55 mph in a 35 mph near Basalt, pulled him over and reported smelling alcohol on him, according to the report.

"(The Basalt officer) said when he initiated the traffic stop the vehicle swerved heavily, almost hitting a construction barrier," the report states.

When asked to exit his car, Estes was unsteady on his feet, used his hands for balance and smelled strongly of alcohol, according to the report.

"I told Estes I could smell alcohol and asked if he had anything to drink today," the Pitkin County deputy wrote in his report. "Estes replied, 'Uh, yeah I had a couple of shots.'"

Estes failed sobriety tests, then declined to take a breath-alcohol test. Instead, the deputies took him to Aspen Valley Hospital, where medical personnel drew his blood, which will be tested for alcohol content, the report states.

Estes was charged with DUI, careless driving, speeding and driving with a suspended license. His license was suspended because of an expired medical certificate typically associated with a commercial driver's license, according to the report.

Taddune, however, said Estes' license was last checked by RFTA in November, when it was found to be valid through 2018 with an updated medical certificate.

Blankenship said Estes was not intoxicated when he showed up for work about 6 p.m. Saturday. It isn't clear if Estes drank alcohol while driving the bus or stopped somewhere in the valley for a drink, he said.

"I believe it happened while he was at work," Blankenship said.

Estes did not return two phone messages Tuesday seeking comment.

Also, while the sheriff's report characterized Estes as a "veteran driver," Taddune said this was just the second winter he'd driven a bus for RFTA.

His career as a bus driver, however, appears over.

"He's no longer an employee of RFTA," Blankenship said. "He's not going to drive for us again."

jauslander@aspentimes.com