A former Orange Unified School District bus driver accused of passing out on the job in 2014, resulting in a crash that seriously injured four students, is suffering from a terminal illness and is too weak to appear in court, his attorney said Friday.
Gerald Douglas Rupple, 27, of Ajo, Arizona, has been diagnosed as terminally ill by his doctors, including one who says the patient needs a dual lung transplant.
In a letter dated March 10, Dr. Tony Hodges of the Banner University Medical Group in Phoeniz, Arizona, wrote to the judge overseeing the case that his patient is too sick to travel.
“Mr. Rupple has a rare and terminal illness known as pulmonary arterial hypertension,” Hodges wrote. “Unfortunately, he continues to be critically ill and unstable for traveling prolonged distances. As such, it is my opinion that traveling by car, or any other means of travel, to California would pose a serious and undue risk to Mr. Rupple’s health.”
In November, Dr. Rajeev Sagger, of the same medical group, wrote a similar letter about Rupple’s health.
“Mr. Rupple is extremely ill, suffering from pulmonary hypertension,” Sagger wrote. “He is gravely ill. It appears he will need a dual lung transplant.”
Rupple’s attorney, Jacqueline Goodman, said, “We have to keep continuing the case until he’s able to make it to court.”
It’s difficult to say if the case will ever go to trial, she said.
“He’s always very close to death, but then he rallies,” she said. “But he is perilously close to death and he has been that way for months.”
Rupple is charged with 11 counts of child abuse and endangerment and one count of perjury for allegedly lying about his medical history when applying for the bus driver’s job, with sentencing enhancements for causing great bodily injury.
Goodman has said in the past that Rupple relied on diagnoses from physicians who told him it was safe for him to drive.
Rupple was driving a bus in Anaheim Hills holding 11 El Rancho Charter Middle School students on April 24, 2014, when he lost consciousness while the vehicle was traveling about 50 mph, according to prosecutors.
The bus swerved off the road into several trees, and four students suffered significant injuries such as broken bones, bleeding on the brain, a shattered spine and a toe amputation, prosecutors said.
In January, the Orange Unified School District reached a $10 million settlement with the families of students injured in the crash.
— City News Services