Special needs student left on bus, hitchhikes 30 miles home

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 un-noticed 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 less than a weeks time.

51-year-old Gale Brown of Lake Wales | School Bus Driver
51-year-old Gale Brown of Lake Wales | School Bus Driver
57-year-old Gwendolyn Simmons of Lake Wales | School Bus Attendant
57-year-old Gwendolyn Simmons of Lake Wales | School Bus Attendant

According to a Polk County affidavit, all of the children except the victim disembarked. The school bus attendant walked up to the front of the bus, not noticing the victim was still in his seat, sleeping. The bus driver then drove and parked the bus, turned the bus off, and both individuals exited the bus without checking to ensure the bus was empty.

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

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

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. The bus is also equipped with a digital video system that recorded both incidents.

In both incidents, both suspects admitted to having a student de-activate the child reminder system before they arrived at the school, and admitted that they did not check the bus for students before leaving it parked all day.

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

“This was entirely avoidable – the Polk County School Board is committed to keeping our children safe, equipping school buses with the latest technology to ensure children are not left behind. These two suspects completely disregarded all safety measures, and endangered a 13-year-old special needs student – there is absolutely no excuse for this type of neglect.” – Sheriff Grady Judd

On Wednesday, officials charged both Brown and Simmons with Negligent Child Abuse. Both suspects were arrested and booked into the Polk County Jail.

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