A Goleta woman was sentenced to seven years in prison on Wednesday for crashing a charter bus while high on methamphetamine.
On March 3, Laura Mae Gish, 52, pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of drugs causing injury and the misdemeanor possession of methamphetamine before Judge Patricia Kelly in Santa Barbara County Superior Court. Ms. Gish also admitted that she injured multiple victims and caused “great bodily injury” to one victim.
Judge Kelly sentenced Ms. Gish on Wednesday to the maximum amount of prison time allowed by state law for her crimes.
On January 18, 2019, Ms. Gish was driving a 25 passenger Volvo bus south on Highway 101 for American Star Tours. Ms. Gish fell asleep at the wheel just south of Alisos Canyon Road.
“This act caused the bus to drift, hit a tree and roll over on its side. It was later determined that at the time of this incident she was under the influence of methamphetamine,” a Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office press release read.
Seven people were transported to the hospital from the scene. Six victims were taken to Marian Regional Medical Center and the other was transported to Santa Ynez Valley Cottage Hospital.
Deputy District Attorney Madison Whitmore prosecuted the case.
“Deputy District Attorney Madison Whitmore did an excellent job holding this driver accountable for her criminal actions. People who step onto a bus must feel confident and trust that their professional driver will make their safety paramount,” District Attorney Joyce Dudley said.
One of the victims submitted a victim impact statement to Judge Kelly on April 13.
The victim, whose name was withheld, was on the way home from Cal Poly at the time of the crash.
“I boarded that bus expecting and trusting I would be taken safely to where I needed to go. I fell asleep texting my parents that I would see them soon. Instead, the next thing I know I am standing in the middle of flipped bus seats, covered in mud with my neck, back and face hurting,” the letter read.
“She (Ms. Gish) just kept repeating ‘I’m sorry baby,’ while I cried that I just wanted to go home. I did not like her talking to me; somehow, I could feel that it was her fault,” the letter read.
The victim suffered a spinal fracture, mild concussion and bruises and scratches on their face, hands and back.
The injuries forced the victim to take time away from school to visit back specialists and surgeons. When the victim returned to Cal Poly, they had to move to a dorm with an elevator and use a golf cart to travel around campus.
The victim said they look forward to doing an internship over the summer and are working toward forgiveness.
“I have gone to Catholic school for 12 years and one of the very first things you are taught is to forgive other people. I am still working on that now but this is something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.”