An argument involving several high schoolers, both males and females, led to a girl using pepper spray on a school bus Tuesday morning in Northeast Richland County.
Deputies responded to Hard Scrabble Road and Sloan Road at about 8:45 a.m. after the bus driver called law enforcement, according to the Richland County Sheriff’s Department. The bus hadn’t been involved in a wreck, as parents might worry about on a normal day – rather, a student had used pepper spray during a mass argument, sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Curtis Wilson said.
Twenty-one teenagers were taken to area hospitals for observation. The teens were treated at the hospital and released gradually, Wilson said Tuesday afternoon. There were no injuries reported, he said.
Whether the girl was trying to defend herself or attack someone was not immediately clear.
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“Obviously, it affected more than one student on that bus,” Wilson said. “Whether it was her intention, I don’t know.”
The incident sprang from an ongoing altercation between two girls, 17 and 15 years old, that carried over into Tuesday morning and ended up involving multiple students, Wilson said.
The bus was headed to Westwood High School when the incident occurred, Wilson said. When deputies responded, the bus was stopped on the side of the road.
It’s legal for a minor to have pepper spray, Wilson said, but it’s only legal to use it for self-defense. If it turns out the girl used the spray illegally, possible charges could include assault and battery and aggravated assault, Wilson said. She also could be charged with carrying a weapon on school property, he said.
Under state law, it is a felony to carry a weapon on school property, with the exception of law enforcement and people who are authorized to do so by school officials. Anyone convicted of the offense faces imprisonment for up to five years, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.
Richland School District 2 officials directed all questions to the sheriff’s department while the incident is being investigated.
Deputies’ initial investigation found no signs of a physical fight, Wilson said – but investigators will review video from the bus to see exactly what happened. The State newspaper has requested a copy of the video.
Though the Richland 2 student handbook for 2016-2017 doesn’t mention pepper spray specifically, it mentions weapons under a section on “serious offenses,” saying: “The use, possession or distribution of weapons, alcohol and drugs will not be tolerated and may permanently expel students involved in weapons, drug or alcohol offenses.”
The policy also says that “buses are considered an extension of the classroom and student behavior on buses is required to mirror behavior in the classroom.”
How dangerous is pepper spray?
What’s commonly called pepper spray is technically termed Oleoresin Capsicum – or OC spray. The ingredient that gives it its sting is capsaicin, according to an article by North Carolina researchers titled “Health Hazards of Pepper Spray.”
Skin contact with the spray can cause tingling, intense burning pain, swelling, redness and occasionally, blistering, according to the article. It can also cause burning of the throat, wheezing, dry cough, shortness of breath, gagging, gasping, inability to breathe or speak – and, rarely, a bluish discoloring of the skin, apnea and respiratory arrest.
“Serious adverse health effects, even death, have followed the use of OC sprays,” the article says. “These sprays should be regarded as poisons or weapons and kept away from children and teenagers.”