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Bus Driver Pleads Guilty in Autistic Student’s Death

The school bus driver who left a 19-year-old student with severe autism on a Southern California bus during a heat wave, pleaded guilty for the role he played in the student’s death. 

Hun Joon “Paul” Lee, who was described as nonverbal and was reliant on adults to lead him off the bus, died Sept. 11, 2015, in Whittier, California, after being trapped on the school bus with the windows closed. Temperatures that day topped 90 degrees.

Armando Abel Ramirez, 37, pleaded guilty to one count of dependent adult abuse. He is expected to serve two years in a state prison under a plea deal that was reached in January.

Lee attended Sierra Vista Adult School, and his family began a search for him after he failed to return home from school in the afternoon.

After the Ramirez was alerted by transportation staff that Lee was missing, he checked the bus and found the student collapsed on the floor and unresponsive. An autopsy revealed that Lee died of overheating, and his death was ruled accidental.

Lee’s death led to new a California law that mandates an alarm system for every school bus in the state by the start of next school year. The systems sound an audible alarm and require drivers to walk to the rear of the bus to turn it off. While doing so, they are supposed to scan on and below each bench seating position to check for students who may be asleep or who did not get off the bus at their stop.

Lee’s family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the school district and its contracted bus service, Pupil Transportation Cooperative, a governmental agency that also provides transportation for other area school districts.

Editor’s Note: This article was reprinted from the March 2017 issue of School Transportation News magazine.

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