Monday, July 21, 2014
Bensalem boy, 4, left inside hot school van
Posted: Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Bristol Township police are investigating how a 4-year-old boy with special needs was left alone, strapped in a car seat, inside a school van for 2½ hours Tuesday before he was found and taken to the hospital.
The child was treated for dehydration at Lower Bucks Hospital in Bristol Township around noon. He was released just before 3 p.m., according to Joann Perotti, spokeswoman for the Bucks County Intermediate Unit, which employs the driver.
The unidentified van driver who left the child — one of five preschoolers picked up Tuesday morning — was immediately suspended, Perotti said. She will be paid for Tuesday, then will be suspended without pay as of Wednesday while the I.U. and police investigation continues, Perotti said. The driver has worked for the I.U. since June 2013, she added.
Perotti said preliminary findings by the Intermediate Unit indicate the driver didn’t follow the agency policy that requires each driver to check the vehicle to ensure all students have gotten off.
At 11 a.m. Tuesday, the temperature was in the low 80s in Doylestown, which is the closest weather station in Bucks County, according to the National Weather Service in Mount Holly, New Jersey. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, temperatures can rise 20 degrees in 10 minutes inside a car. There’s no indication exactly how hot the van was when the boy was found.
The child attends the Friendship Circle Center on Emily Avenue in the Croydon section of Bristol Township, police and the I.U. confirmed. The center, which is operated by BARC Developmental Services, provides services for children between ages 2 and 5 who have special needs. The Bucks County I.U. refers preschoolers with special needs to programs such as the Friendship Circle Center and transports them, Perotti said.
A woman who answered the phone at the center referred questions to BARC’s executive director, Robert Schram. A woman who answered the phone at the main office in Buckingham said the incident hadn’t yet been “made public,” Schram wasn’t available and the agency would have no comment at this time. The newspaper was unsuccessful in reaching Schram for comment through his business email.
The child, who Bristol Township Police Lt. Guy Sava described as “diminutive” in stature, was picked up at his Bensalem home Tuesday morning and taken to the Friendship Circle Center.
After dropping off the children, the driver drove the van home, which is allowed under I.U. policy, said Rebecca Roberts-Malamis, I.U. assistant operations director and in-house legal counsel. A preliminary investigation indicates the driver didn’t realize the boy was inside the van until after she returned to the center around noon to pick up the children, Roberts-Malamis said.
When the driver asked about the whereabouts of the boy, a center employee told her he hadn’t been dropped off in the morning, Roberts-Malamis said. “That made her realize she had picked him up,” she added.
The driver and Friendship Circle staff immediately went to the van, where they found the boy in the back row of the 10-passenger vehicle, Perotti said. He was immediately removed and given liquids. A BARC nurse took care of the boy until paramedics arrived and his family was immediately notified, Perotti added.
As part of its investigation, Perotti said the I.U. is looking at BARC’s policies to determine what steps employees took after realizing the boy was absent Tuesday.
Sava said the van driver wasn’t operating her usual vehicle, but Perotti said the van was identical to the one she usually drives.
Perotti emphasized that van drivers are repeatedly reminded about the I.U.’s policy of checking to ensure all students are dropped off every single time. She said the policy also is outlined in the employee handbook that drivers are told to read and must sign a paper saying they’ve read.
“This is definitely atypical. Our drivers are taught that it is our protocol that they must check the vehicle when kids are dropped off at all locations,” Perotti added. “We definitely don’t tolerate any conduct inconsistent to this policy. We absolutely regret this has happened; transporting our precious children each day requires careful planning and coordination keeping student safety at the forefront.”