Orange Unified School District’s superintendent Friday contradicted several claims from an attorney representing an autistic 15-year-old boy who died in a golf cart on campus this week.
The victim’s mother, Micaela Sanchez Corona, filed a legal claim on Thursday regarding the death of Manny Perez on Monday.
In the claim, Corona’s attorneys allege Manny was not being properly supervised and jumped onto an idling golf cart with the key in the ignition. He slammed the golf cart into a steel beam and died later that day at an area hospital.
The mother’s attorneys also allege in the claim that paramedics were not called immediately.
Supt. Gunn Marie Hansen contradicted all of those claims in a statement. She cited surveillance video, which has not been released.
“At no time was Manny left unattended,” Hansen said. “His one-to-one aide and a second aide were always next to him or near him as he moved through campus.”
The district has 26 electric golf carts that are used for a variety of reasons on campus, which include sometimes transporting students from a classroom to an office, Hansen said. Manny had taken rides on a golf cart in the past, she said.
“As they approached the parked golf cart, Manny ran ahead about 10 feet to get into the passenger seat,” Hansen said. “He stayed in the passenger seat for approximately 30 seconds even though the aides were both trying to persuade him to get out and go into the cafeteria for the nutrition break.”
Instead of dragging the teen off the cart, the aides were following standard protocol with “verbal de-escalation prompts and redirection,” Hansen said.
The aides did not know the cart was idling, but when Manny punched the gas both aides “aggressively tried to stop the vehicle from moving forward,” Hansen said.
“One aide even physically held onto the back of the cart, as it was moving,” Hansen said.
Manny did not appear seriously injured initially, Hansen said.
“He was conscious and complained of stomach pain,” and a nurse decided the school should call 911, Hansen said.
“Within four minutes of placing that call, paramedics arrived at the school and then transported him to the hospital,” Hansen said.
District officials decided not to release the video publicly out of “compassion and respect” to Manny’s family, Hansen said.
“We chose to spare the family the distress of seeing those images posted and shared on social media and in new stories,” Hansen said.
The district plans to release the video to the mother’s attorneys “at an appropriate time,” Hansen said.
District officials have been struggling with turmoil on campus since the accident, including a student walkout on Thursday, Hansen said.
Some students were “physically threatened and verbally abused by some demonstrators,” Hansen said.
“Anonymous death threats have been made in the past few days,” Hansen said. “Staff have been called `murderers.”’
District officials have summoned trained facilitators and advisors to work with counselors, psychologists and teachers “to help heal these divisions and promote open dialogue as students go through this shared grieving experience,” Hansen said.
The superintendent said the teen’s death has “shaken the El Modena High School community and caused sadness across our school district,” Hansen said.
“Once again, I am struggling to find the words to convey the shock and heartbreak we are all feeling,” Hansen said. “Nevertheless, we mourn this loss together, as one community that has so often demonstrated strength, resilience, faith and compassion.”
Robert Glassman, the family’s attorney, told City News Service on Thursday that Manny had the mental capacity of a 3- to 5-year-old and would not have understood the danger of riding a golf cart.
Manny “couldn’t appreciate that he was in danger and he couldn’t appreciate he may be endangering others… and the school knew that and they should have taken greater care and caution to keep him safe and protect him against these known risks,” Glassman said.
The attorney said he was told security officers used the golf cart on campus.
“The most important thing is that Manny’s mom and his family want to see he didn’t die in vain,” Glassman said. “They want to see some kind of change in policies and procedures at the district and all schools throughout California to prevent this kind of thing from ever happening again.”
Hansen said the district’s golf carts, which can be turned on by “simply depressing the accelerator,” were checked since the crash and several were sent in for maintenance.
“We brought in experts from the manufacturers to help with inspections,” Hansen said.
“In the weeks ahead we will use the results of (an audit) to decide how to upgrade or replace golf carts so their accelerators cannot be operational without a key in place,” Hansen said. “You have our commitment that we will make whatever adjustments we need to ensure that no person can operate the vehicle without the key in place. We have embraced our responsibility to make sure our carts do not pose a threat to student safety.”
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