Kelly Santana Hayes’ criminal record includes charges of setting her ex-boyfriend’s mother’s car on fire and pulling a gun on a man who was with his 1-year-old daughter at a gas station.
But the former Madison Metropolitan School District teacher’s aide has just been hired as a bus driver for the city of Madison.
Why has a woman with a concerning criminal record and documented “anger management” issues been given the responsibility of driving a city bus? Welcome to liberal bastion Madison, the city of second, third, fourth and more chances and a revolving-door criminal justice system.
The 37-year-old Hayes made international headlines in 2020 when she employed a baseball bat to smash the windows and set on fire a vehicle owned by the mother of her former boyfriend. England’s Daily Mail, among others, reported that the Madison woman nearly killed herself after breaking out the windows of the Jeep, pouring gasoline inside and lighting a match. The incident, caught on video, shows flames exploding out the driver’s side windows, knocking the woman to the ground. She then crawls away from the inferno.
Hayes ultimately took a plea deal in Dane County’s “progressive justice” court system. Judge Ellen Berz dismissed on the prosecutor’s motions felony counts of arson and criminal damage to property, according to court records. She pleaded guilty to lesser misdemeanor charges of “negligent in handling of burning materials” and disorderly conduct.
The judge deferred prosecution, withholding the sentence. Among other conditions, Hayes was not to possess any weapons or ammunition.
Hayes, who was a special education aide at a Madison elementary schools, was arrested again in September 2022 and charged with seven misdemeanor counts after pointing a gun at a man at a Madison gas station. The man’s baby daughter, in a stroller, was with him at the time of the incident.
Hayes ultimately was sentenced to two years of probation after a plea deal dismissed five of the seven charges against her, including one count of using a dangerous weapon and another for carrying a concealed weapon — the most serious charges against her. Instead she pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and a charge of threatening injury or harm via computer message. That charge, unrelated to the gun incident, was filed after police learned Hayes sent an email threatening to kill her landlord over a rent dispute.
Judge Berz again presided over Hayes’ criminal case. She withheld sentencing again, placing Hayes on two years probation. The lenient punishment comes with conditions, including that Hayes, once again, cannot possess weapons or ammunition and must undergo anger management treatment. She is prohibited from having any contact with her victims and, the sentencing statement oddly notes, can commit “No threats/acts of violence against: Anyone.”
The violent encounter — and Hayes’ criminal past — raised serious questions about her fitness to teach, particularly in serving special education children. The school district placed her on administrative leave, although the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction had renewed her license after she was sentenced in the car fire incident.
But Hayes can apparently drive a city bus.
An official with Madison Metro Transit’s human resources department confirmed Hayes was hired on Monday. Hayes confirmed the same in a brief phone conversation Thursday with The Wisconsin Daily Star. Asked if she wanted to comment for the story, Hayes changed her answer and said that she did not work for the city’s public transit system. She then told The Daily Star not to contact her any more, and hung up.
Rachel Johnson, Madison Metro Transit’s chief administrative officer, did not return a call seeking comment.
– – –
M.D. Kittle is the National Political Editor for The Star News Network.