A 13-year-old Tumwater Middle School student sprayed pepper spray in a moving school bus as it was headed to Mount St. Helens on a field trip Monday morning.
Washington State Patrol Sgt. Jason Hicks said investigators aren’t sure why the student discharged the pepper spray on the bus.
The 13-year-old handed the pepper spray canister to a 12-year-old to hide on the bus after it was sprayed, Hicks said. When troopers later interviewed the 12-year-old, he gave the pepper-spray canister to another student to hide, Hicks said.
The 13-year-old sprayed the pepper spray as the bus was headed south on Interstate 5, near mile post 74 just south of Chehalis.
Five middle-school students and the bus driver required medical attention. The 28-year-old bus driver was taken to Centralia Providence Hospital for additional treatment.
The driver was able to pull the bus over safely on Interstate 5 after the boy discharged the pepper spray at about 9:30 a.m., according to a news release.
Medical personnel and troopers responded and treated five of the 46 students.
Hicks said the patrol is still investigating the incident. One theory that troopers are exploring is that the 13-year-old did not want to go on the trip, so he figured filling the bus with pepper spray would allow him to return home, Hicks said.
“Our initial investigation is that it was done on purpose,” Hicks said.
The patrol is consulting with the Lewis County Prosecuting Attorney to determine whether criminal charges are warranted, Hicks said. The 13-year-old did not spray pepper spray directly at anyone, but the spray can cause injury quickly when it is discharged in close quarters, Hicks added.
The patrol is considering referring juvenile charges of reckless endangerment and/or third-degree assault to the Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney, Hicks said.
The Tumwater School District had to send a second bus to retrieve the students, who continued on their field trip Monday morning. The three students involved in the incident were sent home, Hicks said.