LOS ANGELES - A state Senate committee approved a bill Tuesday that would require school buses to be outfitted with an alarm system to ensure passengers are not forgotten on the vehicles -- a proposal prompted by the death of a 19-year-old autistic Whittier man who was found dead after being left on a bus.
The bill, SB 1072, was approved unanimously by the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee, according to its author, Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia.
"No parent should fear that their child will not return home safely at the end of the day," Mendoza said. "My hope is that SB 1072 will prevent future tragedies by requiring every school bus in the state to be equipped with a child-safety alarm system."
The alarm system generates a noise when the bus is turned off, and the driver must walk to the rear of the bus to turn it off, ensuring that the vehicle is checked to determine if any children are still on board.
The bill is named the "Paul Lee School Bus Safety Law," named in memory of Hun Joon "Paul" Lee, who was found dead inside a school bus parked in Whittier on Sept. 11, 2015.
The bus driver, Armando Abel Ramirez, 37, has been charged with a felony count of dependent adult abuse and is scheduled to be arraigned April 25.
Authorities said Ramirez -- a substitute driver for Lee's bus who was working a split shift -- apparently believed Lee had gotten off the bus to go to school that morning, but did not walk to the back of the bus or look over his shoulder to check if anyone was left in the vehicle at the end of his morning shift.
He returned the bus to the bus yard, filled out paperwork, left for home and returned for work that afternoon, when he was notified by a dispatcher that Lee was missing, prosecutors said.
Ramirez went back to the bus, found Lee unresponsive and called for help, authorities said. Paramedics performed CPR, but Lee was pronounced dead at the scene. The windows on the bus were closed and the temperature that day was near 90 degrees, according to prosecutors.
If convicted as charged, Ramirez could face up to nine years in state prison, according to the District Attorney's Office.
Lee "was left on that hot school bus for many hours and due to the carelessness of others, my son lost his life," Lee's mother, Eun Ha Lee, said. "Paul's death should never have happened and I will remain vigilant that it will not be without change. When a child boards a school bus, there should never be a fear of them being left behind."