A bus company that paid $23.5 million to the family of a 19-year-old, non-verbal autistic student who died on a school bus in 2015 when the driver left him behind sued the Whittier Union High School District Tuesday for partial compensation of the settlement.
Pupil Transportation Cooperative’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit states that the plaintiffs believe the WUHSD paid no money to the relatives of Hun Joon “Paul” Lee in resolving the part of the case filed against the district.
A district representative could not be immediately reached for comment.
Lee boarded a Pupil Transportation Cooperative school bus carrying two additional special needs students and traveled to Sierra Vista Adult School in Whittier on Sept. 11, 2015. The bus driver, Armando Ramirez, distracted by text messages from his lover, failed to ensure that Lee had exited the bus at his destination, according to the family’s lawsuit.
Ramirez returned the bus to the yard, oblivious to the fact that the young man was still aboard, and quickly left to meet his lover for a sexual tryst without first performing his required child check and post-trip sweep of the bus, the family’s lawyers alleged.
When Lee failed to return home from school, his mother notified the WUHSD and his lifeless body was found inside the sweltering school bus, according to the family’s attorneys. Text messages and deposition testimony from the bus driver and his love interest confirmed that while the two were together, the student remained trapped on the parked bus for hours, unable to escape on one of the hottest days of the year, the family’s attorneys said.
According to the Pupil Transportation Cooperative lawsuit, the district assigned an aide to meet Lee at the school bus daily, transport him to class and remain with him through the day. But when he remained on the bus that day, neither the aide nor any teachers called, texted or contacted Pupil Transportation Cooperative or his parents, the new lawsuit alleges.
“Instead, Paul was simply marked ‘absent’ that day,” the new suit states.
When Lee did not arrive at home that afternoon, the aide called the student’s mother, who then contacted the district, the suit states.
“Paul’s body was then discovered on the bus,” according to the new complaint.
Pupil Transportation Cooperative reached the $23.5 million settlement with Lee’s family in June.
Ramirez was later arrested and charged with felony dependent abuse resulting in death. He pleaded guilty in January and was sentenced to two years in state prison.
Last September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the “Paul Lee School Bus Safety Law” requiring all school buses in the state to be equipped with a child safety alarm system that must be deactivated by the bus driver before departing the bus.
–City News Service
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