Deputies: Special needs student left alone on bus -- twice
Gale Brown, Gwendolyn Simmons charged with child neglect
POLK COUNTY, Fla. – A bus driver and bus attendant in Polk County have been arrested on two counts of child neglect, officials said.
Gale Brown, 51, and Gwendolyn Simmons, 57, are accused of leaving a special needs student unattended on two separate occasions.
The 13-year-old student was left on the bus sleeping, exited and hitchhiked 30 miles to his home in Davenport on March 2 and then again on Tuesday, authorities said.
"We're blessed that he was picked up on every occasion by good folks that gave him a ride home, and that he wasn't picked up by some child predator or someone who wanted to create harm for him," Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said.
Brown and Simmons admitted to authorities that they had a student deactivate the "child reminder system" before they arrived at Our Children's Academy in Lake Wales. The system is used to alert the driver or attendant to check the bus for children before leaving, officials said.
"It's like, what are you thinking? Well, we know what they were thinking -- nothing. Between the two of them, they didn't have one thought in their head about thinking about the well-being of the children on that bus," Judd said.
The bus also has a video system that recorded both incidents, officials said.
The student was sleeping near the back of the bus on March 2, while Simmons allegedly sat behind him, deputies said. The bus dropped the other students off at school, but the attendant did not notice the student sleeping in the seat. Brown parked the bus on Mobley Street in Lake Wales and turned the bus off and both women exited the bus without checking to make sure the bus was vacant.
Officials said the student woke up about 15 minutes later, climbed out of the driver's side emergency exit window and hitchhiked to his home in Davenport.
"He doesn't tell his mother, he doesn't tell anyone what occurred to him. Except for the next day when he gets on the bus, which is March 3rd, he tell the attendant, 'Hey, you guys left me on the bus yesterday.' The attendant didn't believe him, and just brushed it off, " Judd said.
The same incident happened again on Tuesday, officials said.
Brown and Simmons told police they were not aware the victim was left unsupervised on the bus.
They are both in the Polk County Jail.
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