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Alexander Rodriquez

A local school bus driver accused of taking a 15-year-old girl -- his passenger -- to a Super 8 hotel and raping her is jailed under a $350,000 bond, according to the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office.

Alexander Rodriquez, 34, is charged with forcible rape in the incident that allegedly happened Wednesday.

The 15-year-old student at Sale Creek Middle/High School was reported missing around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday and was last seen boarding the bus that Rodriquez was driving on Wednesday afternoon, according to police.

When she eventually returned home after 10 p.m. Wednesday, she told deputies that after boarding the bus, she rode with Rodriquez to the place where the buses are kept, and then got into his car and went to a motel with him.

The pair entered a room at the Super 8 Hotel at 8934 Lee Highway, and that's when Rodriquez forced her to perform oral sex and raped her, the teenager told investigators.

She repeatedly told him no and that she was in pain. He responded that he was trying "to make it hurt," according to the affidavit.

The girl told deputies that at some point that night, Rodriquez received a call on his cellphone from investigators, who asked whether he knew anything about where she was.

She said that after that call, Rodriquez put her back in the car and drove her to the Birchwood area, where he left her. He told her to tell everyone she had been at a friend's house. She said it took her about an hour to walk home.

When investigators interviewed Rodriquez, he said he did not know the girl and never saw her on his bus. But later, he said she had been on the bus and that he had given her a ride to a Krystal restaurant.

When deputies asked about taking the girl to a motel, Rodriquez asked for an attorney. He was booked into the Hamilton County Jail.

Rodriquez is employed with Durham School Services, a private company that provides most of the buses and drivers for Hamilton County Schools, operating 203 local routes. The school system also independently contracts with 49 owner-operator bus drivers.

Durham has been providing drivers for the school system since 2007. Nationwide, Durham School Services has more than 23,000 employees.

Rodriquez has been suspended without pay pending the results of the investigation, said Molly Hart, a national spokeswoman for Durham.

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"We are taking this matter very seriously and are working with the school district and local law enforcement to investigate this incident," she said.

Hart was unable to provide any details about the policies that guide driver behavior before press time Thursday. But she did say that all bus drivers must go through drug and alcohol testing, FBI background checks, medical exams and driving record reviews.

Durham met all the state and federal mandates for screening drivers, she said.

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond said the investigation is still in the early stages and that it's too early to say whether the girl and Rodriquez had any sort of relationship beyond bus driver and passenger.

"At this point I can only tell you this young lady was assigned to that bus to get to and from school, and I'm sure there has been dialogue between her and the bus driver, just like there would be with any child," he said. "Part of our investigation is to determine to what extent there was that dialogue that would have been unusual or out of place."

He said it appears there is enough evidence to back up the forcible rape charge.

"This was a 15-year-old girl who was following the direction of an adult," he said.

Why the girl walked home, whether any other students or adults knew that something might be amiss between the pair and whether Rodriquez could have targeted other students are all questions investigators will consider as the case moves forward, Hammond said.

Ben Coulter, transportation director at Hamilton County Schools, said the school system is always working to avoid situations like this.

"We make an effort to deal with every complaint," he said. "That way, if we get anything that is leading to something like this, we can cut it off."

He added that all buses are equipped with cameras.

Rodriquez was cited in May 2014 for speeding while driving a bus but does not have any other charges on his criminal record in Hamilton County. The speeding charge was dismissed in August 2014.

He is scheduled to appear in court on March 23.

Staff writer Tim Omarzu contributed to this story.

Contact staff reporter Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com with tips or story ideas.

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