A school-bus driver who was hailed as a hero six years ago when she was credited with saving the lives of 22 children has been arrested...

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A school-bus driver who was hailed as a hero six years ago when she was credited with saving the lives of 22 children has been arrested after authorities said they found marijuana and a loaded handgun on her bus.

Cheryl Mooring, 52, of Spanaway, Pierce County, was arrested Tuesday afternoon just before picking up children at the end of the school day, said county sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer. He said her blood-alcohol content in a breath test was 0.114 percent — above the state’s legal limit of 0.08 percent.

The arrest came after Bethel School District officials received a phone call from someone reporting that the longtime bus driver had a gun in the vehicle, according to court papers filed Wednesday in Pierce County Superior Court. The tipster, identified in court papers as someone who lives with Mooring, said the bus driver downed several glasses of wine and grabbed a gun before leaving the house. The tipster said Mooring appeared to be upset, court papers said.

District officials found Mooring parked in her bus outside a district facility that houses a program for special-needs students, said Mark Wenzel, district spokesman

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School officials found a loaded .44-caliber handgun wrapped in a sock underneath Mooring’s seat. The gun was loaded with six bullets, including a highly lethal hollow-point, court papers said.

Deputies later found several packaged baggies of marijuana and a glass pipe stashed in the bus first-aid kit, court documents said.

Mooring told investigators that the gun was hers but that she didn’t know why it was there, according to court papers. She suggested it may have been “planted,” court papers said.

Mooring was booked into the Pierce County Jail for investigation of drug possession, unlawful possession of a firearm and possession of a firearm on school property. She was not arrested for investigation of drunken driving because she wasn’t driving when deputies found her, Troyer said.

Wenzel said Mooring has been placed on unpaid administrative leave. She has been a bus driver in the district for 16 years and has had a “clean record.”

“We do random drug testing of 10 bus drivers every month. We cycle through the whole department every 16 months,” Wenzel said. “She was thought of well. We’re shocked.”

Mooring was honored by the State Patrol and the Bethel School District for quick thinking after a Ford Bronco smashed head-on into her bus Jan. 8, 2001. The Bronco driver was killed.

One of Mooring’s legs was pinned beneath the dashboard of the burning bus and her vision was impaired by smoke, but she pulled herself free, felt her way through the bus and counted the children by touch. She led all 22 to safety.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com

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