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Lawsuit alleges West Aurora student sexually assaulted on bus in 2009

Updated: August 13, 2013 6:40AM

The mother of a former Hope D. Wall School student is suing a local bus company and one of its drivers for allegedly knowing about a sexual assault that occurred on a bus four years ago and failing to do anything about it.

The lawsuit, which was filed in Kendall County last month, alleges that in May 2009 a then-15-year-old female student from Oswego, who suffers from Down syndrome, was sexually assaulted by a then-20-year-old male bus passenger on her way home from school.

The male, also a Hope Wall student, allegedly assaulted the teenage girl for 20 to 25 minutes on May 28, 2009 while no required aide was present on the bus.

The Aurora-based RichLee Vans, its parent company Cook-Illinois Corp., and the bus driver, Chinester Rush, all are named as defendants in the lawsuit. They were in a contract with the West Aurora School District to provide bus services for students.

According to court records, Rush filed a written report indicating that the male student and the 15-year-old were “having sex” while being transported from the school. Cameras on the bus allegedly recorded all or part of the incident.

Despite this, the victim’s mother said she wasn’t notified until more than a week later — on June 5, 2009 — of the incident.

Instead, RichLee Vans continued to transport the teenage girl to and from school on the same bus with her alleged assailant.

The lawsuit claims that the victim’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) requires an aide to be present on the bus during her transport. At the time, she functioned mentally at the level of an 8- to 9-year-old, the lawsuit said.

Rush allegedly documented the incident, but failed to take action while it was happening, the lawsuit states. Rush, nor his company, notified the victim’s mother, or sought medical or police intervention.

The lawsuit cites Rush as being negligent. She failed to monitor and supervise the students, failed to seek medical and law enforcement assistance, failed to notify the victim’s mother, failed to request an aidd or monitor and did not require students to sit in separate seats as required, according to the lawsuit. Several other negligent acts also were cited.

RichLee Vans has been targeted for not providing the aide, for not hiring adequate drivers capable of supervising the students, for not training drivers to supervise students properly, for not implementing and enforcing procedures, for failing to seek immediate medical and law enforcement assistance and for continuing to transport the student with her alleged attacker on the same bus.

The victim’s family is seeking more than $50,000 in damages.

No one from Cook-Illinois Corp. was available for comment on Thursday.

Mike Chapin, a spokesman for West Aurora School District, declined to comment on the case on Thursday. He cited the district’s policy not to comment on ongoing litigation.

Last year, both the East and West Aurora School Districts voted against signing a new contract with RichLee Vans for the transportation of their special education students. The decision to go with a higher bid from Durham School Services caused an outpouring of public concern and debate from bus drivers, riders and their families.

RichLee Vans had provided busing on the East Side for more than 20 years and on the West Side since 2007.

The West Aurora School District board cited late drop-off times and rider complaints as reasons for the bid’s non-renewal.

Some taxpayers, however, were concerned about the financial impact of the switch.

Chapin said last year that safety, not cost, must be the first consideration in special education busing contracts, according to state school code.

Both new bids, from RichLee Vans and Durham, came in lower than the district’s previous contract. The 2010-12 RichLee Vans contract was about $11.6 million. Durham’s 2012-14 bid was $11.17 million. RichLee Vans’ 2012-14 bid was $9.4 million.

If board members would have opted to stay with RichLee Vans, the two-year savings to the districts would be $1.7 million.

When made aware of the current lawsuit, East Aurora School Board President Annette Johnson said the board’s decision not to sign a new contract with RichLee Vans had been reaffirmed.

“Hopefully this will put aside numerous criticisms we had for not going with the lowest bidder,” she said. “We try to do what is right for the students.”

Staff writer Kalyn Belsha contributed reporting.

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