Local school bus drivers are being reminded of the importance of training after a local man was sentenced to 10 years for running a stolen Jeep into a Denver school bus last year.
Luis Ortiz was already on the police’s radar last spring with nine previous arrests, when he was driving a green Jeep Cherokee that had been reported stolen from Commerce City, Colorado on Valentine’s Day. Ortiz was wanted for absconding parole on Jan. 10. The Denver Police Department spotted the stolen vehicle on March 30, but were unable to catch it.
Two weeks later, police came across the Jeep yet again.
“Ortiz disregarded a stop sign at N. Tejon Street and W. 39th Avenue and crashed into a school bus, injuring occupants in both the school bus and the suspect vehicle,” said Ken Lane, Denver district attorney.
The school bus had just picked up students from Denver Montessori Middle School and was traveling southbound when the Jeep caused it to collide with a tree.
Of 39 students on board, five were hospitalized and 13 were treated for bumps and bruises. Ortiz was also brought to the hospital as were two children that were riding with him, ages 4 and 6.
Though she called the crash an unpreventable accident, Director of Transportation for Denver Public Schools Nicole Portee said it served as an important reminder to staff. “Existing training guidelines and policies prepare our staff for unpreventable accidents,” she said.
She said DPS staff receive training in awareness and procedures that include school violence threats to safety from Homeland Security, the Denver Police, and the local Department of Safety.
“There are always discussions around how accidents can be prevented and if our training should be enhanced,” she added. “Safety is paramount and drivers are always encouraged to be on alert. Staff are reminded to drive the bus first and be prepared for anything other drivers might do.”
Drivers for Denver Public Schools are reminded to follow "IDPE" defensive driving techniques, short for Identify, Predict, Decide, Execute.
For Ortiz's part in the crash, he was sentenced last week to 10 years in prison for child abuse, the charge prosecutors levied for Ortiz hitting the school bus and causing the student injuries. He was first arrested at 18 years old for a weapons offense, the Denver Post reported. Since then Ortiz has been charged with dangerous drugs, forgery and vehicle theft as well as escaping corrections and criminal trespassing. He was last sentenced to four years for “vehicular eluding,” and was released in July 2016.
In addition to the decade-long sentence for child abuse, Ortiz will concurrently serve six years for vehicular evasion and two years for two assault convictions. None of these charges resulted from striking the school bus.
In preparing drivers to expect the unexpected, Portee said, “Having great collaboration with your district and state teams such as safety, risk, media, and police provide transportation an advantage in our efforts to respond quickly. Student and driver safety is all of our first priority.”
Though the name of the school bus driver is not being released, Portee commended her work saying. “Our driver was exemplary in her responsiveness to her students and keeping them safe,” Portee added. “Our employee was acknowledged for the great work, responsiveness and is back to work.”