On Wednesday, March 9, 2016, PCSO Special Victims Unit detectives arrested Polk County School bus driver, 51-year-old Gale Brown of Lake Wales, and Polk County School bus attendant, 57-year-old Gwendolyn Simmons of Lake Wales, and charged each with two counts Negligent Child Abuse (F-3).
According to the affidavits, a 13-year-old special needs student was left on the bus on two separate occasions, after dropping off all of the other children at Our Children's Academy in Lake Wales.
On March 2, 2016, the victim was sleeping in the 6th seat from the rear of the bus on the driver's side, while Simmons (the bus attendant) sat behind him. Brown drove the bus and children to Our Children's Academy, and all of the children except the victim disembarked. Simmons walked up to the front of the bus, not noticing the victim was still in his seat, sleeping. Brown then drove and parked the bus on Mobley Street in Lake Wales, turned the bus off, and both Brown and Simmons exited the bus without checking to ensure the bus was empty. The victim woke up about 15 minutes later, climbed out of the driver's side emergency exit window, and then hitch-hiked and walked approximately 30 miles to his home in Davenport.
On March 8, the victim was again sleeping in his seat, not noticed by either Brown or Simmons, who left on the bus on Mobley Street in Lake Wales. The victim again forced open the bus door, and hitch-hiked and walked home.
The bus is equipped with a "child reminder system" which requires the driver or attendant to push a button at the rear of the bus to turn it off - the purpose of the alarm is to ensure the driver or attendant check the bus for children prior to leaving the bus. The bus is also equipped with a digital video system that recorded both incidents.
In both incidents, both suspects admitted to having a student de-activate the child reminder system before they arrived at the school, and admitted that they did not check the bus for students before leaving it parked all day. Neither of the suspects was aware that the victim was left unsupervised on the bus. Both suspects were arrested and booked into the Polk County Jail.
"This was entirely avoidable - the Polk County School Board is committed to keeping our children safe, equipping school buses with the latest technology to ensure children are not left behind. These two suspects completely disregarded all safety measures, and endangered a 13-year-old special needs student - there is absolutely no excuse for this type of neglect." - Sheriff Grady Judd