A family in Whittier, California finally got some closure after they were awarded a $23.5 million settlement after their 19-year-old autistic son died after being left inside a hot school bus almost two years ago.
On September 11, 2015, Hun Joon “Paul” Lee was left inside a hot school bus after the driver failed to notice that he didn’t get off at his stop, according to KTLA. It was 96 degrees that day and all the windows were closed. A few hours later, the driver was notified that Lee was missing and he found him unresponsive in his bus — Lee was pronounced dead at 4:33 p.m.
The driver, who’s been identified as Armando Abel Ramirez, was allegedly texting one of his coworkers for a sexual rendezvous on the same day. He plead guilty in January and was sentenced to two years in state prison.
“He took his attention away from Paul and onto his phone, onto those text messages and onto sex — rushed away from work to go have sex,” Robert Glassman, on of the family’s attorney, told KTLA. “With these text messages we can cross-reference the time on the text messages with the time the bus pulled up in front of the school and we can see that he was texting at the exact moment that he was supposed to be off-boarding Paul.”
Lee was a student at the Sierra Vista Adult school in the Whittier Union High School District. He had the mental capacity of a 3-year-old and was nonverbal, so he wouldn’t have been able to cry for help. The family then sued the Pupil Transportation Cooperative.
Rahul Ravipudi, one of the family’s lawyers, released the following statement after the settlement was filed on Friday:
“His horrific death is an immeasurable loss. … Not only was it the direct product of criminal actions by the bus driver, but the systematic failures of Pupil Transportation Cooperative and others. 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. 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.”
In September 2016, California Jerry Brown signed the Paul Lee School Bus Safety Law that instituted safety procedures to prevent tragedies like this from ever happening again. The law goes into effect in 2018.