Driver arrested after special needs student found dead on school bus; family also suing

The driver of a school bus on which a 19-year-old special needs student was left and died has been arrested, Whittier police said.

Armando Abel Ramirez, 37, was booked on suspicion of dependent abuse Wednesday afternoon and is being held in lieu of $50,000 bail, jail records show.

In September, Hun Joon Lee was found slumped in the bus' aisle and pronounced dead after lifesaving efforts failed, according to Los Angeles County coroner’s Lt. David Smith.

Lee regularly rode the bus to his home in Whittier, and Ramirez was the driver on Lee’s final ride, police say.

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The family sued the school district and bus agency in December, alleging negligence in Lee’s death and in hiring Ramirez in the first place.

According to the suit, Lee was picked up about 8 a.m., and bound for Sierra Vista Adult School. There were only three students on the bus the entire ride, including Lee, the suit claims. When they arrived at the school however, only two left the bus and Lee remained inside.

Temperatures nearly reached triple digits that day and Lee was left inside the bus for seven hours, according to the family.

The teen typically left school on the bus around 2:30 p.m. and arrived home at 4 p.m., said Brad White, a spokesman for the Whittier Police Department. When he didn't show up on Sept. 11, his mother called the school, which then called the bus company. A driver went out to the bus yard and found Lee slumped in the aisle of the parked bus, White said.

Police arrived at the Sierra Education Center to find several bus drivers attempting CPR on the young man. The officers took over the lifesaving effort, without success. Lee was pronounced dead about 10 minutes after police arrived.

Police are treating the death as suspicious because "nothing that we've learned so far would lead us to believe he had any medical conditions," White said.

There were no signs of trauma on Lee's body, and no weapons were found at the scene, White said.

Lee attended the center, which has a transition program dedicated to adult students with special needs, said Valerie Martinez, Whittier Union High School District spokeswoman.

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Whittier Union High School District Supt. Sandra Thorstenson issued a written statement of condolence.

"Our hearts are with our student's parents and family — we're all grieving. We're making ourselves, our counseling services and our staff available to his family and to our students and staff who were close to him," she wrote.

Ramirez is scheduled to be arraigned Friday.

Los Angeles Times staff writers Jack Dolan and Cindy Carcamo contributed to this report.

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1:56 p.m.: This article has been updated with information about a lawsuit filed by the family.

This article was originally published at 7:03 a.m.