Driver Arrested After Autistic 19-Year-Old Dies on Whittier School Bus: Police

A school bus driver was arrested Wednesday, nearly six months after a 19-year-old autistic man was found dead after being left alone on a Whittier school bus, Whittier police said.

Armando Abel Ramirez, 36, was arrested on suspicion of dependent abuse at his home in Apple Valley. His bail was set at $50,000.

Hun Joon "Paul" Lee, 19, of Whittier, was found unresponsive on the bus around 4:15 p.m. Sept. 11, a hot summer day when temperatures approached 100 degrees. The bus was parked at the PTC bus depot at 9402 Greenleaf Ave. in Whittier, according to police and fire officials.

Bus drivers who found him tried to perform CPR, as did paramedics who arrived at the scene, but Lee was pronounced dead.

A family friend spoke out Wednesday night following the arrest, saying perhaps Paul's parents may be able to start to move forward with their lives.

"There's a sense of relief for me," Laura Quinn, a family friend, said. "For a lot of other families following Paul's case."

Though Paul's parents weren't ready to speak out, Quinn said they were at home together after the news of the arrest.

"Paul was their whole world," Quinn said. "So now they're trying to pick up the pieces."

Lee's parents filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the bus transportation company.

Eun Ha Lee and Sang Sik Lee contend in their Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit that Pupil Transportation Cooperative had policies in place designed to prevent students from being left on buses, but they were not followed.

"This tragedy which needlessly took their beloved son away from them should have never happened," the lawsuit alleges.

According to police, Lee rode the bus to a transition program at the Sierra Education Center near Sierra Vista High School at about 8:30 a.m. the day he died, and should have boarded it to return home by 4 p.m.

When he didn't get home on time, his mother called the school district, which called Pupil
Transportation, leading the driver to find him unresponsive.

The lawsuit contends that Lee never got off the bus at school and the driver returned to the bus depot, "locked it and left" with Lee still inside.

"Sept. 11, 2015, was a typical hot summer day with temperatures nearing 100 degrees,'' according to the lawsuit, which claims that PTC officials left Lee on the bus "all morning and all afternoon."

The lawsuit claims the company employees failed "to do a mandatory and routine sweep of the subject bus prior to exiting, especially considering that there were only three children on the subject bus who were of special needs."

The bus operator also failed "to document or confirm (Lee's) arrival at school," failed to escort him off the bus and "neglected to pay attention to (Lee) for an extended period of time during the bus ride and failed to recognize, respond to or assist (Lee) in any manner," according to the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages.

In the days after Lee's death, PTC officials announced a series of policy changes designed to prevent anyone from being left on a bus.

Spokesman Tom DeLapp said the company implemented a "team checking system so no one individual can sign off on the fact a bus is clear." He said two adults will have to walk the bus before it is cleared.

The company planned to hire a school-bus safety expert to "help advise us on whether we have the highest safety standards we can have." It also outfitted its buses with "electronic notification systems," which require drivers to walk to the back of the bus before the vehicle can be cleared.

DeLapp said the company reached out to Lee's family, and the company's board voted to donate $10,000 to the family to help cover funeral and other costs.

Ramirez was set to appear in a Bellflower court on Friday.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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