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, has signaled a willingness to plead guilty in the case, according to court records obtained Tuesday.
Gerald Douglas Rupple, 27, of Ajo, Arizona, wants to plead guilty via a video-conference call because he is too ill to travel from Arizona to Orange County, according to court papers filed by his attorney, Jacqueline Goodman, on Nov. 20.
Deputy District Attorney Jeffrey Kirk filed papers declaring his office had no opposition to the move.
Rupple underwent a double lung transplant “several weeks ago,” Goodman wrote in the motion.
Rupple “is prevented from traveling by virtue of his tenuous physical condition,” but he is “of sound mind and body and fully capable of executing the waivers to entering a plea” in person, Goodman wrote in the motion.
“So delicate is his physical condition” the defendant resides in a motel near a hospital because his home is an hour away, according to Goodman.
Before his lung transplant, Rupple was diagnosed by Dr. Tony Hodges of the Banner University Medical Group in Phoenix with “a rare and terminal illness known as pulmonary arterial hypertension.”
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 sustained 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.
It is unclear what sentence Rupple would receive if he pleads guilty.
Messages left with Goodman and Kirk were not immediately returned.
–City News Service
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