By Mike Simmons
It is always a treat for a group of high school kids to take a field trip. It’s even better when the trip is an out-of-town excursion, especially to another state. That’s what ten kids in LaGrange, Georgia felt like when they learned that they would be taking a trip to Pensacola Beach on the last week of school in 1945. The kids, under the supervision of Carl and Mae Bailey, and Mae’s sister, Laura Smith, were headed to the beach n Monday, May 29, 1945.
But there were a couple of problems. Mr. and Mrs. Bailey and Miss Smith were in their early 20s and spent a large part of the trip on the school bus arguing in front of the kids.
It’s probably not a good idea to choose three chaperones who carried their liquor with them on the bus AND GOT DRUNK ALONG THE WAY. Especially when Mae had a handgun with her – not a good combination.
The distance from LaGrange, Georgia to Pensacola Beach is 267 miles. In 1945, the speed limit was 35 miles an hour, making the trip 7½ hours long – without stops. Likely, the kids had been on the bus since early that morning, which meant that they were eager to get out. When, at 7 PM, the bus reached Gulf Breeze at the south end of the Bay Bridge (which was named the “Thomas A. Johnson” bridge at the time), the driver pulled over to let the kids out to stretch their legs. Maybe it was also to get them away from the drunk chaperones.
Apparently, the argument got worse, because the handgun suddenly appeared. There were five rounds in the revolver – all five were shot wildly through the bus. The last one struck Mae.
State Road Patrol, Sergeant Carl Mahaffey was the first officer on scene. One of the first things he did in his investigation was to call the Santa Rosa County Sheriff, Marshall Hayes. When Sheriff Hayes arrived, he separated Mr. Hayes from his wounded wife and her sister. Then waived down a passing truck and put Mae and Laura on it to the closest hospital at 12th Avenue and Brainerd Streets, the Pensacola Hospital.
Somewhere during the 4½ mile trip, Mae expired. Meanwhile, sheriff’s deputies took Carl into custody. The witnesses (the bus driver and some of the kids) were taken to Milton in preparation for the inquest the next morning. The 28-mile trip took about an hour.
The investigation concluded the next morning, and State Attorney J. Edwin Holsberry interviewed Mr. Bailey and the other witnesses and looked over the evidence. Mr. Bailey testified that his wife fired the rounds, and died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Before the inquest was to begin, Mr. Holsberry concluded that no inquest was necessary. He released the suspect and witnesses and sent the body back to Georgia. The kids, of course, were returned home also.