A California bus driver who pleaded guilty to charges he left a special needs student in a parked bus for hours has been sentenced to state prison time, LA County prosecutors said Monday.
Armando Ramirez pleaded guilty January 6 to one felony count of dependent adult abuse resulting in the 2015 death of Hun Jun "Paul" Lee.
Lee's family said he had autism and was nonverbal with the mental capacity of a 3-year-old. His mother called the school to say he never returned home from school that day, and she was told the boy had never arrived.
Deputy District Attorney Michael DeRose said in the afternoon of September 11, police were dispatched to a bus yard in Whittier where they found Lee lying on the floor of a parked bus.
All of the windows in the bus were closed and the temperature that day was near 96 degrees Fahrenheit. Paramedics were called, but Lee, 19, was pronounced dead at the scene, the prosecutor said.
Over the course of their investigation, police discovered Ramirez was a substitute driver for Lee’s bus on the day of his death. Ramirez also was working a split shift, according to the prosecutor.
Devastated by his death, Lee’s family questioned how the teen could have been overlooked on a bus that was driving only three other students that morning, KTLA reported.
"My boy is a very, very precious boy," his mother, Eun Ha Lee, told the news station. "I don’t know other people, how they think about my son, but my son is perfect to me."
Ramirez believed Lee had gotten off the bus to go to school in the morning, yet he did not walk to the rear of the bus and did not look over his shoulder to check that any one was left in the vehicle at the end of his morning shift.
According to the prosecutor, Ramirez returned the bus to the yard after his morning shift and left. When the defendant returned to work later in the day for the second part of his shift, he was notified by a dispatcher that Lee was missing.
At that point, Ramirez went to his bus, found Lee unresponsive and called for help, the prosecutor added.
More than six months after Lee’s death, Ramirez was taken into custody at his Apple Valley home.