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Sheriff charges Pender County Schools bus driver employee with sexual battery

A white Pender County Sheriff car photographed from the side sitting in front of the Pender County Courthouse lawn.
Nikolai Mather/WHQR

On May 15, the Pender County Sheriff's Office arrested a former PCS employee. He has since been charged with two counts of misdemeanor sexual battery against two students.

A former Pender County Schools employee has been charged with sexual battery.

On May 15, the Pender County Sheriff's Office arrested 32-year-old Austin Lee Kelly, a former Heide Trask High School bus driver from Burgaw. Kelly, who was originally hired as a substitute bus monitor in March 2023, had been dismissed from his job as bus driver less than a week earlier on May 9.

"These charges stemmed from an initial investigation by administration staff members of a Pender County high school of school employment policy violations," PCSO stated in a press release. "School administrators in turn immediately reported criminal offenses to the high school resource officer, which began a criminal complaint leading to these charges."

Kelly has since been charged with two counts of misdemeanor sexual battery. The PCSO has identified his two victims as Pender County students.

On May 17, Pender County Schools spokesperson Bob Fankboner issued a statement on the matter.

"We understand that this news may cause concern within our community, and we want to assure parents, students, and staff that the safety and well-being of our students is our highest priority," he wrote. "Pender County Schools is committed to maintaining a secure and supportive environment for all our students."

He added that those with information on Kelly or his alleged crimes should contact the sheriff's office.

Nikolai Mather is a Report for America corps member from Pittsboro, North Carolina. He covers rural communities in Pender County, Brunswick County and Columbus County. He graduated from UNC Charlotte with degrees in genocide studies and political science. Prior to his work with WHQR, he covered religion in Athens, Georgia and local politics in Charlotte, North Carolina. In his spare time, he likes working on cars and playing the harmonica. You can reach him at nmather@whqr.org.