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Whittier Daily News - California school bus safety bill prompted by Whittier teen’s death goes to Governor
Hun Joon “Paul” Lee. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda/ Whittier Daily News)
Only a year after the death of an autistic Whittier teen who was left alone for hours in a hot school bus, legislation to make sure that doesn’t happen again has been sent to the governor.
The state Senate voted 39-0 Friday to approve state Sen. Tony Mendoza’s S.B. 1072 that requires all school buses in California to be equipped with a child-safety alarm system in the back of the vehicle that must be turned off by the bus driver, ensuring the driver checks each seat.
“I am thankful to the legislators who passed this bill,” said Eun Ha Lee, mother of 19-year-old Hun Joon “Paul” Lee, who was found on Sept. 11 unconscious in a bus parked at the Whittier Union High School District lot at the southeast corner of Greenleaf Avenue and Mulberry Drive. “I believe this bill can save the lives of children.”
Lee, who was nonverbal, was left alone on a Pupil Transportation Cooperative bus, which rents the lot, for around seven hours on a sweltering day. He was found at 4:25 p.m. after his family contacted Sierra Vista Adult School when Lee didn’t return home at his usual 3:30 p.m.
Eun Ha Lee, who spoke from her Garden Grove home’s backyard garden that serves as a tribute to her son, said she was proud to have a bill created in his memory.
“I still can’t believe he is gone, but I have to support it because I do not want other parents to suffer like I have,” she said on Friday. “Never ever.”
Mendoza, D-Cerritos, who named his bill after Lee, said he hopes no deaths will ever occur again on a school bus, and that it provides for more than the alarm system.
The bill also mandates schools districts to have safety protocols, guidelines and yearly training for drivers, he said.
Mendoza said the cost to districts is estimated at $150 per device. Los Angeles Unified School District has already installed them, he added.
“Each district gets transportation money,” Mendoza said. “That will cover the cost.”
The bill exempts charter buses, which take students to and from school activities, such as sporting events, as long there is at least one adult chaperone, pupils are accounted for before and after the trip, and safety plans and procedures are reviewed with the students.
Since Lee’s death, the bus driver, Armando Abel Ramirez, has been charged with a felony count of dependent adult abuse causing death. A preliminary hearing setting conference is scheduled for Sept. 22 in Norwalk Superior Court.
The Lee family also has sued the cooperative — a joint powers agency composed of seven school districts in the Whittier and Pico Rivera area — for wrongful death.
A trial-setting conference is scheduled for Sept. 23 in Norwalk Superior Court.