Special-needs student dies after falling from bus

Questions raised about responsibilities of bus driver, aides

December 10, 2010|By Erica L. Green, The Baltimore Sun

A 6-year-old special-needs student who fell out of a moving school bus this week was declared legally dead Friday of traumatic brain injuries he sustained in the fall. As family filtered to and from his bedside shortly after he was taken off most life support, they prepared for a long fight to get answers about how the accident happened.

The boy, Jeremy Jennings Jr., was declared legally dead at Johns Hopkins Hospital at 5:30 p.m. after two days of no brain activity, family members said. Jennings' tiny chest was still heaving because of a breathing machine late Friday night, as extended family filed into his room to say their goodbyes, and nurses took hand and foot molds as mementos for his mother.

Pained chuckles filled the room at the sign posted above his bed that reminded nurses: "Please be careful of my teeth, they are a little loose. Thanks! Jeremy."

City schools officials announced shortly before the boy died that a bus driver and two aides who worked for the bus company — M R Hopkins Transportation Services Inc. — that was transporting the student from his private Baltimore County school to his West Baltimore home had been dismissed in the wake of Wednesday's incident. City schools spokeswoman Edie House-Foster said the bus driver's license had been disqualified, and the two aides had their certifications suspended pending an investigation.

As word spread of the penalties against the bus employees, Jeremy's family members said it wasn't enough. Instead, they'd rather face the only ones who know how the boy made it from the front to the back of the school bus without anyone catching him, and how he ended up in the middle of Pot Spring Road. Family members also want them to explain why Jeremy wasn't in the harness that his state-mandated education plan required him to have.

"I need answers," said Jeremy's mother, Lisa Avery. "If I'm wrong, I will apologize. But Jeremy gave them hell on wheels all the time, so it's not like they didn't know. Either they didn't care about my child, or someone wasn't at the back of that bus."

Baltimore County paramedics responded to the incident in Timonium shortly after 3 p.m. Wednesday, where they found the injured boy. The bus was traveling from The Villa Maria at St. Vincent's School, a Catholic special-education school in Timonium that serves grades pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.

The bus was traveling near Pot Spring and Girdwood roads when Jeremy got out of his seat and began an altercation with another child, according to Lt. Rob McCullough, spokesman for Baltimore County police. One of the two adult aides on the bus broke up the altercation, and Jeremy tried unsuccessfully to leave from the bus' front door. He then ran to the back of the bus, opened the rear door and fell onto the road, McCullough said.

Jeremy was a city student sent to the county school because it was better equipped to handle his needs, school officials said. He suffered from emotional problems and hyperactivity, his mother said.

The school system is working with police on the investigation.

The school has contracted with the bus company since 1979, House-Foster said, and it runs 18 routes transporting about 400 students in the city. The route to Villa Maria has been suspended, but all others will resume on Monday, she said. The aides on the bus went through training, House-Foster said. One of the aides had been assigned to a specific student, who was not identified. Several attempts to reach M R Hopkins Transportation were unsuccessful.

Family members, including a clinician and others who work with special-needs students, said that while the boy suffered from emotional problems, he was as easy to coddle as any 6-year-old.

"I don't understand, because he wasn't that hard to deal with," said his aunt, Tashonda Childs. "If you gave him hugs, he calmed down, and everyone who knew him knew that. Anyone who knows about special-needs children know that you don't yell at them. All they had to do is give him a hug."

Conversations at the hospital quickly moved to lighthearted stories about how Jeremy was resilient, having survived being hit by a car that sent him flying on McCullough Street when he was 4 years old. When his mother arrived at the hospital after that accident, Jeremy sat up without a scratch, asking to go home and play his video games.

His mother spoke of how he was a handful, but his voice — and trademark finger-on-his-chin when he was thinking of how to get out of trouble — exemplified his exuberance. This week, he did just that as he tried to convince her that it was his brother who had discovered the new Wii game that was supposed to be a Christmas gift. He recently scribbled all over his grandmother's wall, which will now become a permanent mural.

"That little boy had been through some things, and we had some issues to deal with," Avery said. "But we did it." On Wednesday morning, Avery recalled, her son reassured her that he would try harder to behave, knowing that he would face going to the hospital for evaluation after his school had called repeatedly about his behavior,

"Ma," she recalled her young son saying, "I'm going to have a good day."

erica.green@baltsun.com

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