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Child left on school bus

Sat for 6 hours; authorities plan to charge driver

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By Kathleen Burge
Globe Staff / May 14, 2009
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A preschooler spent more than six hours sitting on a Northbridge school bus Monday after the driver overlooked him and left the bus in a parking lot for the day, authorities said.

Northbridge police say they expect to file criminal charges against the driver. The driver and a bus monitor who was also on the bus were fired Monday by Vendetti Bus Co., which transports Northbridge children to school, as soon as officials learned about the incident.

"We are very thankful and blessed that the student was not injured," said Northbridge Superintendent Susan M. Gorky. "He was taken to a pediatrician by his family. He has resumed his normal school routines."

The preschooler, who is almost 4, was picked up at his house Monday at 8:25 a.m., authorities said. After the bus driver picked up the boy, he dropped off five other students at two Northbridge schools and parked the bus in a lot for the day. The driver discovered the boy when he returned to the bus Monday afternoon, Gorky said.

The preschooler was returned home at about 2:40 p.m., and released to the care of a babysitter. He returned to W. Edward Balmer Elementary School Tuesday - by bus.

Gorky said Vendetti is conducting its own investigation and is working with the state Department of Public Utilities, which certifies school bus drivers.

Gorky, who recently started work as superintendent, said the school district is also having ongoing meetings with the bus company to review standards. The district has already examined the training Vendetti gives its drivers and determined that it exceeds state requirements, she said.

"The driver and the monitor of the bus have been terminated, and we support that decision 110 percent," she said.

The bus is designed to accommodate wheelchairs, although the preschooler does not use one, Gorky said. She called the boy's parents Monday afternoon to tell them that their son had been left on the bus all day.

Gorky said it did not appear that the boy's parents were called when he did not arrive at school, although she is still investigating. The school district has a policy of notifying parents when children are unexpectedly absent.

"They are doing everything they can to support their child and have him back in his normal routine," Gorky said. She declined to release the family's name.

Police Chief Walter J. Warchol said his department plans to file within a few days a charge of reckless endangerment of a child against the bus driver, whom he declined to name. A conviction would carry a maximum of 2 1/2 years in jail, Warchol said. The monitor on the bus, he said, will not be prosecuted.

"The bus driver's responsible for the actions on the bus," Warchol said. "He's responsible for making sure that everybody's off."

Warchol said his department's investigation did not turn up any suggestion that the bus driver was impaired by alcohol or drugs. The school district contacted the Police Department Monday after learning about the incident. Warchol, who said his office conferred with the Worcester district attorney's office, said he had never seen a similar incident in Northbridge, a town of about 14,000 residents about 14 miles south of Worcester, where he has worked for more than three decades.

"I'd just say carelessness," Warchol said. "No other word for it. [The boy] should have been visible to anybody on the bus. I don't think there's any other excuse for it."

An employee at Vendetti Bus Co. declined to answer questions about the incident.

Kathleen Burge can be reached at kburge@globe.com.