Old Paso: He Shot Our Bus

by Cliff Tucker

1935 Ford School Bus

1935 Ford School Bus

With the recent occurrences of school shootings going on around the country in this day and age, I recall an incident of this type happening right here in our little town of Paso Robles when we numbered around 2,000 people. Yes, someone shot at one of our occupied school buses.

My first awareness of the event  happened when Mary Kirkland, a fourth grade classmate of mine, rushed into Miss Lenora Edgar’s classroom on the morning of April 10, 1935 and shouted, ” A man shot at my school bus”.

The bus was occupied by forty-five  Paso Robles High School students that lived in San Miguel and a few grammar school students that lived south of the Wellsona Crossing. The driver of the bus was long time driver, Price Haynes. As the bus stopped at the Kenny’s Auto Court, located at the north end of town on the long sweeping curve near the Mud Bath House and the Berta farm, an automobile pulled up behind the bus and a man got out with a twenty-two caliber revolver in one hand and waving a machete in the other while firing a couple of shots at the rear of the bus and shouting, “Why are you going to school on Sunday”?

Price put the bus in gear and headed to the high school campus that was located at 24th and Spring Streets. The school had been alerted of the incident so when the bus pulled up to the west side of the school, with the shooter still following, they were met by  C. C. Carpenter, the superintendent, Chief of Police, Claude  Azbell, Constable Walt Traeger and several teachers – Frank Porter, Ilas Dean and George Flamson. The three teachers went to the automobile of the shooter and opened the door and yanked him out with no resistance. The man was cuffed and taken away by the law officers.

The deranged shooter, Merle Smith, was a one-time deputy  in Tulare County. As Price Haynes described later: ” He looked and acted to be as crazy as a loon”.  Mr. Smith was held in the county jail for some time  and after several hearings was declared insane and was sent to the California State Hospital in Agnews.

I guess history will always keep repeating itself.