Special-needs student left on bus, hitchhikes 30 miles home twice

Both the driver and attendant are on paid administrative leave.

Photo courtesy Polk County Sheriff’s Office

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A 13-year-old special needs student had to escape his school bus through an emergency window and then hitchhike 30 miles to his home after being left on a Polk County school bus.

The victim had fallen asleep and gone unnoticed by both the school bus driver and attendant, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

The worst part is the Our Children’s Academy in Lake Wales student was reportedly left on the bus twice in one week.

Gwendolyn Simmons
Gwendolyn Simmons
Gale Brown
Gale Brown

According to a Polk County affidavit, all of the children except the victim disembarked. The school bus attendant walked to the front of the bus, not noticing the victim was still in his seat, sleeping.

The bus driver, Gale Brown, then drove and parked the bus, turning it off. Then, both individuals exited the bus without checking to ensure it was empty.

Officials said the victim woke up about 15 minutes later, climbed out of the driver’s side emergency exit window, and hitchhiked and walked approximately 30 miles to his home in Davenport.

“The attendant walked right by him on March the second. The driver paid absolutely no attention when she left the bus,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said.

Less than a week later, on March 8, the victim was again sleeping in his seat, not noticed by either the driver or attendant, Gwendolyn Simmons, who left the bus after parking it. The victim again forced open the bus door, and hitchhiked and walked home.

“What wasn’t functioning? The brains of the driver and the attendant … It’s like, are you kidding me? Do you hear what I said? They left a kid on the bus twice in one week,” Judd said.

No one knew what happened until a therapist called the mom looking for the teen when he didn’t show up to school for an appointment Tuesday.

Deputies said the victim even told the driver and attendant they left him on the bus the first time it happened. Investigators said they thought he was joking.

The bus is equipped with a “child reminder system,” which requires the driver or attendant to push a button at the rear of the bus to turn it off. The purpose of the alarm is to ensure the driver or attendant check the bus for children prior to leaving. The bus is also equipped with a digital video system that recorded both incidents.

Both suspects admitted to having a student de-activate the child reminder system before they arrived at the school – in both incidents. They also admitted they did not check the bus for students before leaving.

“Between the two of them they didn’t have one thought in their head about looking out for the wellbeing of the children on that bus,” Judd said.

Neither of the suspects was aware that the victim was left unsupervised on the bus.

Both are on paid administrative leave.

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