School bus driver Armando Ramirez was charged with one felony count of dependent adult abuse resulting in death after an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Paul Lee, a 19-year-old autistic student from Southern California, last September.
Lee, who was non-verbal, was left behind on a school bus for approximately nine hours after the end of the morning route. The weather in Whittier, California, had been nearly 100 degrees that day. Transportation staff found Lee after his mother called the school district when he was not dropped off at home that afternoon.
Lee’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Pupil Transportation Cooperative, which operated the bus, and the Whittier School District at the end of last year. According to a statement from the attorneys representing the family, Pupil Transportation Cooperative admitted in discovery that the driver’s conduct caused Lee’s death, and that the company was vicariously liable, but that the school district was well-aware of Lee’s needs and limitations, and therefore shared in that responsibility.
“We are pleased that the Whittier Police Department has taken the first step to hold bus driver Armando Ramirez accountable for his role in the death of Paul Lee,” said attorney Brian Panish, following the 37-year-old driver's arrest Wednesday. “We will continue to pursue justice for the Lee family and remain diligent in our fight to change bus safety policies and procedures in order to avoid a senseless tragedy like this from ever happening again.”
In order to prevent similar incidents, state Sen. Tony Mendoza, who represents Whittier and surrounding areas, recently introduced a bill that would require all school buses in California to be equipped with child detection technology.
“It is my hope that we can find some meaning in the recent tragic loss of a Whittier student on a school bus, in the form of meaningful change that will safeguard other children. It should not take events like this one to spur us into action on these issues,” he said.
Ramirez was booked at the Whittier Police Department Jail for Dependent Abuse, 368PC. Bail was set at $50,000 and arraignment is set for April 25 in Department 4 of the Los Angeles County Superior Court, Bellflower Branch. If tried and convicted, Ramirez faces up to nine years in state prison.