The parents of Hun Joon “Paul” Lee settled with a local Whittier, California school bus contractor for $23.5 million as a result of the 19-year-old student's death onboard his school bus nearly two years ago after being left by a substitute driver.
Lee, who was non-verbal and weighed over 300 pounds while standing at nearly six-feet tall, required nearly constant adult supervision and direction. School bus driver Armando Ramirez is serving two years in state prison after pleading guilty earlier this year to felony dependent abuse resulting in death.
Court documents revealed that Ramirez had been text messaging his lover, a fellow school bus driver, the morning of Lee’s death. The two arranged a sexual encounter immediately following the conclusion of Ramirez’s route, and he departed the bus without conducting a mandatory post-trip check for students.
Lee remained onboard awaiting instruction and eventually succumbed to heat, as the outside temperature that day was in the high 90s. Ramirez returned to the bus about eight hours later and discovered Lee’s body, but only after Lee’s parents made phone calls to Pupil Transportation Cooperative inquiring about his location.
“Paul Lee was the center of the Lee family’s universe and his horrific death is an immeasurable loss,” said Rahul Ravipudi, the family’s attorney, in a statement on Monday after the settlement was reached. “Not only was it the direct product of criminal actions by the bus driver, but the systematic failures of Pupil Transportation Cooperative and others.”
PTC admitted its liability in a February 2016 statement.
The case resulted in the first law in U.S. history requiring electronic alarms be installed in all school buses to remind drivers to scan the entire bus for sleeping or left-behind students before disembarking. All California school buses will need the technology installed by Sept. 1, 2018. Bus drivers must also undergo mandatory training.
“Through this litigation, we have learned that PTC is not unique and that children are left behind in school busses all over the country and all too often,” Ravipudi added. “We’re hoping that bringing these issues to light will force bus companies to do the right thing and be vigilant in enforcing lawful and safe practices to protect our children.”
STN left phone messages with and sent an email to PTC seeking comment but had not heard back as of this report. The government agency provides school bus transportation for seven school districts in the Whittier area east of Los Angeles.