Girl sets hair on fire; Bus driver suspended

Elmer Estepa, 54, says video camera gives better view than bus driver's view

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Once the summer travel season and Labor Day are behind us, fares dip in a big way.

DELTONA, Fla. - A Deltona school bus driver was suspended after the school board said he didn't stop and investigate a cigarette lighter on the bus, which resulted in a middle school student lighting her own hair and another student's hair on fire.

Elmer Estepa, 54, was suspended for two days without pay by the Volusia County School Board after a Deltona Middle School student was caught on bus camera lighting her own hair and another student's hair on fire in December. Another student also punched another student about a dozen times during the same ride home, according to school board report.

Estepa told an investigator he smelled the faint scent of a lighter and glanced down the aisle but didn't see any smoke. He told investigators that  it's difficult for a driver to keep an eye on students' behavior and the road at the same time, according to the report.

The district has not released the video because of student confidentiality rules. According to a report, the video shows the girl starting the lighter more than 20 times in a 15-minute period. In addition to lighting hair on fire, she tried to light a book bag on fire and rolled up a paper pretending to smoke.

Estepa reportedly told students "I know my nose is not playing tricks on me," after smelling the lighter but says he didn't see smoke. He said in his statement that the video gives a better view of the back of the bus than his own eyes.

School Board officials said if "unprofessional conduct" is reported by Estepa again, he could be fired.

The students received disciplinary action, but school board officials said they won't release specifics.

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