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Woman drives onto middle school campus

Courtesy of John Wade

Sophia Casuse drove a black 1986 four-door Volvo about 75 to 80 yards onto campus Tuesday, Durango police said. A teacher said he had to push several children out of harm’s way.

By Shane Benjamin Herald staff writer

A New Mexico woman suspected of drunken driving nearly hit several students Tuesday at Miller Middle School, said a teacher’s aide who witnessed the incident.

Sophia Casuse, 42, was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving and driving on a revoked license, said Sgt. Bobby Taylor, with the Durango Police Department.

The woman, who is about 28 weeks pregnant, was taken to Mercy Regional Medical Center for observation, Taylor said. She was to be taken to the La Plata County jail after her checkup, he said.

Police said Casuse drove over weeds and rocks, and used a dirt service road to access the north end of campus.

“She made it around a couple of trees,” Taylor said.

The incident was reported shortly before 12:20 p.m. at Miller Middle School, 2608 Junction St. Casuse drove a black 1986 four-door Volvo about 75 to 80 yards onto campus.

About 70 students were on the football field at the time during lunch, said John Wade, a history and art teacher.

Wade said he pushed several children, who were waiting for a turn on the basketball court, out of harm’s way.

“If she would have just kept going, she might have killed some kids,” he said. “It would have been bad.”

When reached Tuesday night, Durango School District 9-R administrators seemed unaware of the full extent of the incident.

No notifications were sent home to parents, said district spokeswoman Julie Popp.

“No children were harmed, this didn’t affect drop-off or pickup, there were no major evacuations, there were no large threats to a large number of students,” she said.

Tam Smith, principal at Miller Middle School, sought to downplay Wade’s version of events. Smith, who did not witness the incident, said no students were directly in danger.

“Nobody was hurt,” he said. “We had two police officers on campus that were already on campus. They dealt with the situation expediently.”

When reached Tuesday night for a follow-up interview, Wade said the principal called him and told him not to speak anymore to the Herald.

In earlier interviews, Wade said he and Dean Garland, a teacher of math and science, stood in front of the woman’s car motioning for her to stop.

“He and I literally just kind of jumped in front of her car and held our hands up, and she stopped, luckily,” Wade said. “In hindsight, maybe we shouldn’t have done that.”

Garland did not return phone calls Tuesday night seeking comment.

Wade said six students were waiting off the basketball court to get onto the court.

“She was about to hit six kids,” he said. “I literally had to push six kids out of the way onto the basketball court because that was behind the gate. It didn’t look like she was going to stop.”

Wade said he asked Garland to have the woman turn off the car and give him her keys.

Casuse turned off the car and started to walk away, Wade said. She had trouble standing and used a fence to balance herself, he said.

“When she tried to walk away from us, she could barely stand,” he said. “She was like, falling over, hitting the gate. The kids witnessed it, too. They watched her just kind of bounce off of her car, between the car and the gate, and she just kept hobbling away and kind of bouncing off the gate that surrounds the basketball court. It was quite interesting.”

The woman apparently told police she was in a hotel partying, and the next thing she knew she awoke driving her car, Wade said.

Police confirmed the woman has been staying at a Durango motel.

“The kids were kind of freaked out,” Wade said. “That was a shocker, I’ve got to tell you.”

shane@durangoherald.com

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