The Lee family suffered a terrible loss on September 11, 2015 when their 19-year-old non-verbal son, Hun Joon “Paul” Lee, was found dead in the school bus he was riding home. Business Wire reported that the bus, carrying two other special needs students, was driven by Armando Ramirez who failed to notice that Lee did not get off at his stop, neglecting his duty to do the mandatory child check or post-trip sweep of the bus. Six months after Lee passed away the bus driver was arrested and, in January 2017, he plead guilty and was convicted of felony dependent abuse resulting in death. Ramirez was sentenced to two-years in state prison. Business Wire also quoted one of the Lee family’s attorneys, Rahul Ravipudi, who spoke to the root of this tragedy explaining that the events that transpired are far too common and expressed hope 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”.
Thankfully, recent events reflect the hope that Mr. Ravipudi voiced during the litigation. On Monday, June 12, 2017 it was reported by KTLA that the Lee family reached a $23.5 million settlement in the lawsuit against the Pupil Transportation Cooperative. Although it is certain that monetary compensation cannot even begin to make up for the loss of their son, the sum of money serves to demonstrate the recognition that the Lee family is bringing to protecting individuals with autism. However, Business Wire explained how the lawsuit is not the only way that Paul’s story is still having an impact. Lee’s school district, Whitter Union High School District, has implemented various protocols to assure that the tragedy that occurred two years ago cannot happen again. The school district now calls students’ homes if he or her is not in class within 30 minutes of the start of school, uses ID cards to track which students exit and enter the bus, depends on bus monitors to assure all students are off the bus, and requires that students be placed on air conditioned buses upon request.
Changes are now stretching across the entire state of California after Governor Jerry Brown signed a law written by Senator Tony Mendoza, photographed below, titled the “Paul Lee School Bus Safety Law” in September 2016. According to this law, all school buses must have a child safety alarm system that bus drivers are required to deactivate before getting off the bus and all bus drivers must be trained in child-safety check procedures. Laws and policies like those being implemented in California are positive steps toward protecting future generations of special needs children. The Lee family has shown incredible strength and care for their community in the face of a terrible tragedy that with the steps that have been taken, hopefully, will never happen again.