Driver charged in death of special needs student found in sweltering school bus

Driver charged in death of special needs student found in sweltering school bus
The body of a special needs student was found on a school bus in a district parking lot in Whittier on Sept. 11, 2015. (KTLA-TV Channel 5)

A bus driver was charged Friday in the death of a special needs student who was left in a sweltering bus parked with its windows closed, prosecutors said.

Armando Abel Ramirez, 37, of Rialto faces one felony count of dependent adult abuse that resulted in the death of Hun Joon "Paul" Lee, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.


Ramirez is scheduled to be arraigned April 25, prosecutors said. If convicted, he faces up to nine years in state prison. Ramirez was arrested Wednesday.

An investigation into the death began Sept. 11 when police went to a bus yard in Whittier and found Lee slumped in an aisle. He had been inside the parked bus for hours, prosecutors said.

Temperatures reached 90 degrees that day, and the bus windows were closed.

Paramedics unsuccessfully tried to resuscitate Lee. He was pronounced dead.

Lee, 19, a student at Sierra Adult School, could not verbally communicate and needed special care, prosecutors said.

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

Ramirez was a substitute driver on Lee's bus that day and was also working a split shift. Lee regularly rode the bus to his home in Whittier.

"Ramirez reportedly believed Lee had gotten off the bus to go to school in the morning," prosecutors said. "Yet he allegedly 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."

After working the morning shift, Ramirez returned the bus to the yard, filled out paperwork and went home, prosecutors said.

Later that day, he returned to work for his second shift and a dispatcher told him that Lee was missing.

Hun Joon Lee, 19, is seen with his mother in a photo provided by his family.
Hun Joon Lee, 19, is seen with his mother in a photo provided by his family. (KTLA-TV Channel 5)

The teen typically left school on the bus about 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, his mother called the school, which then called the bus company

Ramirez checked the bus, where he found Lee unresponsive and called for help.

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


According to the suit, there were only three students on the bus the entire ride, including Lee. When they arrived at the school however, only two left the bus and Lee remained inside.

His family said he remained inside the bus for seven hours.

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Times staff writer Joseph Serna contributed to this report.