ANDERSON, Ind. – "I was devastated that evening,” said Rosemary Elfrink as she thought back to April 12, when she says her 7-year-old nephew Ethan was left on an Anderson school bus.
It was the first day her nephew was riding the bus to his new school, and it was also a new route for the substitute bus driver.
"I’m guessing he just really didn’t know for sure which building it was and the driver never said ‘hey Ethan this is your stop,'” Elfrink says.
Ethan never got off the bus and the driver never noticed. Ethan spent nearly the whole school day on the bus, until the driver went out for his afternoon pickup and found him still on board.
“To know that he was on that bus for more than 5 hours, at 7 years old, nothing to occupy himself, no restroom, nothing to eat, nothing to drink... it just makes me question how concerning the safety of the students is,” Elfrink said.
This isn’t the first time this has happened in Anderson this school year. In September, another student was left on the bus by the same bus driver. Anderson Transit, which operates the buses, says they fired the driver after the first incident. However, he was given a second chance and re-hired two weeks later.
"There should've been a secondary person checking the bus, this driver never should have been given a second opportunity to drive," Elfrink said. "If that's supposed to be an automatic termination, he never should have been brought back in the company to drive some more.”
This issue isn’t just happening in Anderson. According to the State Department of Education, this incident marks the 26th time a student was left on a bus in Indiana this school year alone, with more than 200 incidents over the last 10 years.
"This didn’t have to happen,” Elfrink said.
Anderson Transit says their drivers are required to check the bus after every route, marking the bus empty with a sign in the back. It’s unclear if the driver did his walk through that day.
“This was an avoidable situation,” Elfrink said.
Elfrink is also concerned that the school district never called to let them know her nephew didn’t show up to school. She’s thankful the situation didn’t end up worse.
“What if it had been 90 degrees outside and he had sat in this bus, which is a tin box, for five hours," asked Elfrink. "He might not be here today.”
Anderson Transit says the driver was terminated immediately following the incident.
The school district says they take student safety seriously.