Stewart County was rocked March 2, 2005, when teenager Jason Clinard shot and killed beloved SC bus driver Joyce Gregory in Cumberland City. March 2, 2019, will mark the 14 year anniversary of the horrific incident, which still burns in the minds of Stewart County school students, staff, and community. Clinard, now 28, is serving a life sentence for the first-degree murder. According to District Attorney General Ray Crouch, after federal appeals were denied, "Clinard then appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (federal appellate court) pursuing the claim that he received ineffective assistance of counsel during his juvenile transfer hearing. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held, 'because there is a reasonable probability that Clinard would not have been transferred to adult court absent his counsel's ineffective assistance, Clinard is entitled to a new transfer hearing.'" Crouch added, "The Federal District Court will now conduct a new juvenile transfer hearing, if adequate grounds are found to transfer Clinard to adult court, this will presumably conclude the appellate process and the conviction and sentence will stand. However, if the Federal District Court determines that Clinard should not be transferred, the convictions could be set aside."
This case sets a precedent in our area in two ways: Stewart County was the first county in the nation to experience a bus driver being killed by a student... ever. As reported in the January 30, 2018 edition of the Standard, during a SC Health Council meeting, SC Director of Schools Leta Joiner said of the Gregory shooting, "Sometimes we forget, we had it here. It was a bus driver, but we had it here." Dover Police Chief Kim Wallace added, "The only bus driver shooting in the United States has been here." Additionally, Crouch explained, "To my knowledge, this is the first case in our judicial district in which a new transfer hearing will be conducted by a Federal District Court." The high profile nature of the case spawned a petition online encouraging people to contact then Gov. Phil Bredesen to commute Clinard's sentence, stating he suffered from mental illness.
As the case is brought back into the forefront, SC Schools Transportation Director Eric Watkins expounded on safety precautions set in place since the Gregory shooting. "In the months and years following, we have tried to be very proactive when it comes to safety. After the incident, we added video cameras to all buses and added GPS to every bus a couple of years ago. We also have increased training for the drivers, especially in the area of bus driver and student interaction." On a personal note, Watkins said, "The shooting will forever live in my mind, but time has taken away some of the pain of those days back in 2005. I am not ashamed to say that a couple of weeks after the shooting, I too had to seek grief counseling. It is not something that you soon forget. Today, I still think of Joyce when making some decisions and always seek out guidance daily from the Lord."