Family of deceased autistic student left on school bus reaches $25M settlement

The family of a 19-year-old, non-verbal autistic student who died on a school bus in Whittier when the driver left him behind, allegedly so he could rush to a sexual tryst with a co-worker, reached a $23.5 million settlement with the bus company, attorneys said on Monday.

Hun Joon "Paul" Lee boarded a Pupil Transportation Cooperative school bus carrying two additional special needs students and traveled to Sierra Vista Adult School in Whittier on Sept. 11, 2015. Trial of the family's civil suit was scheduled to begin Monday in Norwalk Superior Court.

"Paul Lee was the center of the Lee family's universe and his horrific death is an immeasurable loss," said Rahul Ravipudi, one of the family's lawyers. "Not only was it the direct product of criminal actions by the bus
driver, but the systematic failures of Pupil Transportation Cooperative and others."

Through the litigation, the plaintiffs' attorneys learned that PTC is not unique and that children are left behind in school buses all over the country, Ravipudi said.

"We're hoping that bringing these issues to light will force bus companies to do the right thing and be vigilant in enforcing lawful and safe practices to protect our children," Ravipudi said.

The bus driver, Armando Ramirez, distracted by text messages from his lover, failed to ensure that Paul had exited the bus at his destination, according to the lawsuit.

Ramirez returned the bus to the yard, oblivious to the fact that the teen was still aboard and quickly left to meet his lover for a sexual tryst without first performing his required child check and post-trip sweep of the
bus, the family's lawyers alleged.

When the teen failed to return home from school, his mother notified the Whittier Union High School District and his lifeless body was found inside the sweltering school bus, according to the family's attorneys. Text messages
and deposition testimony from the bus driver and his lover confirmed that while the two were engaged in their affair, Paul remained trapped on the parked bus for hours, unable to escape on one of the hottest days of the year, the family's attorneys said.

Ramirez was later arrested and charged with felony dependent abuse resulting in death. He pleaded guilty in January and was sentenced to two years in state prison.

In September 2016, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the "Paul Lee School Bus Safety Law" requiring all school buses in the state to be equipped with a child safety alarm system that must be deactivated by the bus driver before
departing the bus.