A 3-year-old boy who was allegedly inadvertently trapped in a school bus in 2017 received a $100,000 settlement from the Española School District.
Judge Bryan Biedscheid ruled Monday that the funds, $33,000 of which went to the family’s attorney, will be available to the boy when he turns 18 for educational purposes or at 21 as a lump sum.
A 2018 civil complaint for negligence alleged that in May 2017, then-school bus driver Melissa Martinez picked up the toddler and other students in the morning at the Los Niños preschool to take them to the Little Creations daycare, but the child fell asleep in the back of the bus and woke up locked in the bus in Martinez’s front yard.
The suit claimed Martinez did not perform a walkthrough of the bus as required by District policy, and that the 3-year-old was locked inside for about five hours before figuring out how to pull a lever to open the door.
“(The child) had no food or drink, the bus was very hot, and he was extremely upset, afraid, and crying,” attorney Sheri Raphaelson wrote in the complaint. “(The boy) suffered bodily injury in the form of psychological trauma, and continues to suffer the same.”
An Española Police incident report at the time states that Martinez told officers that instead of the usual 11 children on her route, there were only four on the day in question.
Bus driver aide Eloy Trujillo reportedly told an officer that he “spaced it out” that the child was on the bus. Martinez was reportedly put on administrative leave the day of the incident.
At Monday’s hearing, the child’s mother unsuccessfully asked that the funds be released to the family prior to her son reaching adulthood so that they could move to another school district.
“Our biggest reason for the settlement is so we didn’t have to put our kid through trial,” she told Biedscheid. “I’m just asking for help to get him to a better school environment.”
Biedscheid said he denied the request in part because the settlement was technically solely for one of their several children, and the legal obligation for the family to determine what is an expense for a single child and what goes toward the rest of the family is often near-impossible.
“You have pursued what is right,” he said. “There is nothing but positive impressions of you two.”
Attorney for the District Gerard Coppler said he did not yet know how much of the settlement would be covered by the District’s insurance—New Mexico Public Schools Insurance Authority.