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Driver denies wrongdoing in death of special needs student left on school bus

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A school bus driver accused of being responsible for the death of a special needs student appeared in court Monday to deny charges against him.

Armando Abel Ramirez, 37, pleaded not guilty to dependent abuse in the death of 19-year-old Hun Joon Lee, whose body was discovered in the bus aisle on a sweltering afternoon in September.

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 filed suit against the school district and bus agency in December, alleging negligence in Lee’s death and in hiring Ramirez in the first place.

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According to the suit, Lee was picked up about 8 a.m. Sept. 11, 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 reached nearly 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, 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. 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.

Officials 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.

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

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

Ramirez is free on bail and is due back in court in Norwalk on May 27 to set a date for his preliminary hearing.

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna.

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