CRESTWOOD, Ill. (CBS) — The Alpha School Bus Co. said Friday it has fired the bus driver who left a special-needs student on a bus in south suburban Crestwood for five hours earlier this week.
“Alpha School Bus deeply regrets the incident,” Alpha’s regional manager Caprice Sanfratello said in a written statement.
When bus company officials realized the 19-year-old student with Down syndrome had not been dropped off at her school in Orland Park, they “immediately returned the child to school and contacted school officials,” the statement said.
As WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports, it was the first day back at school for Alexis Robinson, who has Down syndrome and attends special education classes in Orland Park.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports
The school bus picked Robinson up at her home in Country Club Hills promptly at 7:39 a.m. Tuesday for the trip to school. It was an early start, as she was used to sleeping in during the summer months.
That might explain why she apparently drifted back to sleep and did not get off the bus with eight fellow students when it arrived at 8:23 a.m. at the transition program operated by the Southwest Cook County Cooperative Association for Special Education in Orland Park.
But it does not explain why a new bus driver at Crestwood-based Alpha School Bus Co., apparently “failed to do her job,” and left Robinson on the bus for five hours, Robinson’s grandmother, Linda Daniels, said Thursday.
Robinson remained on the bus when it was returned to the Crestwood terminal and parked. She was not discovered until the bus driver began her afternoon route at 1:30 p.m. to pick up the students and take them home, Daniels said.
Robinson was unharmed, but “I was a wreck,” her grandmother said.
A District 228 official said the district has used the bus company for several years.
Daniels got a cell phone call from the school about 1:20 p.m., asking why Robinson did not come to school. Daniels said she personally put her granddaughter on the bus and met the new bus driver.
School officials then searched the building but did not find her, said Daniels, who was on her cell phone and home phone simultaneously with the school and the bus company.
According to Daniels, bus company officials were able to reach the driver, who was en route to Orland Park.
“Then she sees Alexis with her head down on the seat,” Daniels said.
“I can’t tell you how upset my family and I are,” she said.
Robinson has a cell phone and knows how to use it, but didn’t call her grandmother.
The teen hasn’t been herself — not talking or eating much — since her mother died a few months ago after battling breast cancer, Daniels said.
“I asked her if she was sleeping on the bus and she said ‘yes.’ I guess she was sleeping the whole time. We don’t know what she was thinking,” Daniels said.
But if this incident happened during summer school in the sweltering heat, “she would have died,” Daniels said.
Even though the bus driver apologized, Daniels said, “She should never be allowed to drive a bus again.”
Crestwood police said the matter is under investigation.
State law requires school bus drivers to walk to the rear of the bus and make a visual sweep, checking for passengers after each route to prevent such incidents.
The Alpha School Bus bus barn also has several signs posted reminding drivers to check for sleeping children, Daniels said.
School officials issued a statement saying, “This occurrence is unacceptable and cannot be repeated.”
Daniels wants the school to establish a system to account for the students as they come off the bus, based on the bus driver’s route sheet.
“It’s nine kids on a short bus,” she said.
The SouthtownStar contributed to this report, via the Sun-Times Media Wire.