MONSON, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- A Monson school van driver is expected in court Friday charged with reckless endangerment after police say a three-year-old with autism was left alone in the van for hours.
Meanwhile, a separate student transportation company here in western Mass. is showing us a tool they use to help prevent something like this from happening.
Monson residents were alarmed this week after learning a three-year-old child who is autistic was left inside a school van in town for over three hours last Thursday.
“If it wasn’t for the school contacting the parents, nobody would have known for how many more hours,” Monson resident Wendy Peck said.
Monson Police said the realization that the child was missing came when the school contacted the family to follow up on the child's absence from school that day. But the family told them they had put the child on the school van that morning. A search led to the discovery of the child still in the van parked outside of the Quarry Hill Community School.
“At that point, it is apparent to us, the bus driver left the van with the three-year-old child on the van and went home,” Monson Police Chief Stephen Kozloski said.
According to a police report obtained by Western Mass News, the van driver, 45-year-old Erica DeJesus stated to officers that she did not check to see if the vehicle was empty on the day of the incident.
“The operator indicated for some reason they did not check the inside that day,” Kozloski said.
This brought a quick reaction from the community. One local bus transportation company not associated with the incident in Monson said they have a safety tool in place to help prevent a child from being overlooked.
“So any vans that are 2018 or newer are supposed to have a child reminder system,” King Gray Coach Lines Operations Manager Chad Sleeper said.
Sleeper said their nine school vans are equipped with a child reminder system, which is activated when this button is switched on, which happens when the first student is picked up, and the outside lights are turned on.
“We activate our school lights on the van, and the alarm system, the checkmate system is tied in with our school lights,” Sleeper said.
Once the system is activated, it remains on through the course of the driver’s route. Once they are done for the day, Sleeper says the drivers must do a check inside and outside of the vans.
“They park their vans back here at their garage or at their homes, and they do a double-check where they thoroughly go through the vehicle to make sure there are no children left behind,” Sleeper explained.
Once the search is complete, drivers must press this cancellation button on the back passenger side door to deactivate the child reminder system. If they don’t do this crucial step….
“The van will then start sounding the horn; the horn will not disengage until the driver goes through and disengages the child reminder system,” Sleeper said.
In addition, Sleeper said drivers check-in one final time with the company before leaving for the day.
“That they have cleared their run for the day, and nothing is left behind with the vehicle,” Sleeper said.
Sleeper tells us two vans right now are being retrofitted and will be on the road starting next week.