The family of a 19-year-old student with autism who died in 2015 after being left on a hot school bus in Whittier, Calif., will receive $23.5 million in a lawsuit settlement with the bus company.
Lee was found on the floor of a bus parked in a Whittier bus yard on Sept. 11, 2015 — a 96-degree day. The teenager, who was non-verbal, was pronounced dead after life-saving efforts failed.
Armando Abel Ramirez, the bus driver who was transporting Lee and other special-needs students, did not check the rear of the bus to ensure Lee had gotten off the vehicle.
Ramirez was subsequently charged with felony dependent adult abuse resulting in death. After pleading guilty, he was sentenced earlier this year to two years in prison.
The law firm representing the Lees, Panish Shea & Boyle, says Ramirez returned the bus to the yard that day without noticing that Lee was still aboard because he was hurrying to meet a woman for a sexual tryst.
“Paul Lee's...horrific death is an immeasurable loss,” says Rahul Ravipudi, one of the Lee's attorneys. “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 buses all over the country and all too often.”
The tragedy has led to changes in California law, the firm says. In September 2016, Governor Jerry Brown signed the “Paul Lee School Bus Safety Law,” which requires that all school buses in California be equipped with a child safety alarm system that must be deactivated by the bus driver before departing the bus.