Safe grad bus driver had Naked Grape in her purse — and alcohol in her bloodstream

Jessica Syniak had one job that night, but she was too drunk to do it. 

Hired to transport high school students to and from a safe grad outside Edmonton, Syniak was seen stumbling off a school bus at about 2 a.m.

"One of the parents spotted that the gal had stumbled, brought it to our security's attention and we decided that something was wrong with her," said Ken Dobush, owner of Longriders RV Park north of Edmonton.

He said security officers quickly boarded the bus. 

"I believe it was an empty bottle of wine found in her purse, sitting at the driver's seat," Dobush said. "I remember specifically a couple of mothers, in fact, that were just absolutely livid. It didn't take long to phone the authorities, and it didn't take the authorities long to get to us."

Court Exhibit

Earlier this month, Syniak was found guilty of impaired driving, fined $2,500 and given a 12-month driving prohibition. Her lawyer plans to appeal the fine.

Fired soon after charges were laid in June 2018, Syniak lost the job she'd held for two years as a Golden Arrow bus driver, transporting students during the week for Edmonton Catholic schools.

Thirteen days after she was arrested at the Archbishop MacDonald Catholic High School safe grad, Syniak was charged again with impaired driving in Sherwood Park, court records show.

She is scheduled to go to trial in November on those charges. 

Most safe grads are parent-supervised events that allow Grade 12 students to drink in a controlled environment. 

On June 3, 2018, RCMP were called to Longriders RV Park and arrived at 2:37 a.m. Const. Derek Hawkins later testified he was the first officer to approach the bus where Syniak was still on board.

"I noted the bus was running," Hawkins said in court. "The door to the bus was closed, so we knocked on the bus." 

He said the woman in the driver's seat wasn't wearing shoes. Her eyes appeared glassy and she looked confused.

Hawkins said he ordered Syniak to open the door, and she had difficulty doing so.

He asked Syniak if she had been drinking, and said she told him she was exhausted, that it had been a long day.

Hawkins demanded a breath sample. Syniak blew over the legal limit and was taken into custody. She was slurring her words and stumbling as Hawkins led her to his RCMP cruiser.

She asked the officer to get her purse from the bus.

"I took pictures and noted in her purse a half partially filled bottle of Naked Grape wine and a device," Hawkins testified. "It's kind of like a breath-alcohol content reader in her purse."

Photos of the two items were entered as exhibits at the trial.

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Hawkins said he told Syniak why he had concerns about the possibility of her consuming alcohol. 

"She was driving a school bus filled with 17-, 18-year-old children, as well as parents," he said. "It's a busy highway at times, even at 2 a.m. there's vehicles on the road."

At the Morinville RCMP detachment, Const. Stephanie Labonte spent time with Syniak while they waited for more blood-alcohol testing. 

"During the whole time she was crying, then laughing, then back to crying," Labonte testified. "She did tell me lots of personal stuff that was going on in her life. She told me that she broke up with her ex-partner, and that was hard for her. And I remember her talking about being a bus driver." 

The first breath sample at the detachment was taken at 4:26 a.m. and the reading was 190 mg/alcohol in 100 ml/blood, well over twice the legal limit. 

The second reading at 5:08 a.m. showed 170 mg/alcohol in 100 ml/blood. (The legal limit is 80 mg.) 

Syniak, 31, was charged but was allowed to leave the police station that same morning. 

Ten days later, she was again charged with impaired driving by RCMP in Sherwood Park.

Dobush said he has hosted more than 250 graduations at his RV park over the past 15 years, and has never seen anything like what happened that night 

"I was dumbfounded," he said. "I was just absolutely shocked that a driver would take it upon herself to drink, knowing full well she's going to be delivering about 45 students back to the city safe and sound.

"It's supposed to be a safe grad."