On September 27, 2016, Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 1072 into law, helping to ensure that no child will ever again be left behind on a school bus in California. Senator Tony Mendoza, who authored the “Paul Lee School Bus Safety Law,” made the announcement during a press conference held on the steps of Whittier City Hall today.
The bill requires 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. The new law will also require bus drivers, upon a renewal of their annual school bus driver safety certificate, to receive training in child-safety check procedures and will go into effect beginning with the 2018-19 school year.
Paul Lee’s parents as well as PSBR attorney Rahul Ravipudi attended the press conference in support of the bill.
“We praise Governor Brown’s decision to sign SB 1072 into law. This is an important step in ensuring that the proper safety measures are in place so tragedies like Paul Lee’s death don’t happen to another child,” said Rahul Ravipudi. “We continue to be inspired by the Lee family and their love for Paul as we seek justice and hold those accountable for his senseless death.”
Hun Joon “Paul” Lee, for whom the law is named, was a 19-year-old non-verbal autistic student who died after being left behind on a Whittier school bus in September 2015. The bus driver had returned the bus to the yard and given the “all-clear” that it was empty before leaving for the day. However, when Paul failed to return home from school, his body was discovered more than seven hours later aboard that same bus parked at the school bus parking lot.
“Our family is grateful today to Governor Jerry Brown for his recognition that school bus safety is an important issue and we thank him for signing SB 1072,” Mrs. Lee told the audience. “It will help protect the most vulnerable of our students, like my son, who we tragically lost last year after he was left behind on a school bus. The signing of this bill is a warm hug from heaven that will allow all children who ride a school bus to arrive at their destination safely.”
Panish | Shea | Boyle | Ravipudi LLP and the Yun Law Firm represent the Lee family in a wrongful death lawsuit against Pupil Transportation Cooperative (PTC) and the Whittier Union High School District. In February 2016, PTC admitted liability in the death of Paul Lee.
Bus driver Armando Ramirez was arrested in March 2016 as a result of the tragedy and later charged with felony dependent adult abuse resulting in death. Mr. Ramirez entered a plea of not guilty and, if convicted, faces up to nine years in prison.