January 19, 2013 at 12:03 PM
PATERSON, NJ – On the day after she buried her 14-year-old daughter, Bobbie White held a press conference Friday evening at her lawyer’s office in Newark to plead for an explanation on exactly what happened when her child went out the back emergency door of a moving school bus.
White said police in Rutherford, where the incident occurred, have refused to give her a copy of the police report, saying the case was still under investigation. She said the Paterson school district has not yet given her an official account of the incident or answered her questions about it. Moreover, the company that owned and operated the bus, K&M Transportation of Wallington, has not responded to inquiries, said White’s attorney, Kenyatta Stewart.
“We want answers,’’ said White. “We want to know what happened. We don’t want this to happen to anybody else.’’
Paterson Public Schools canceled its contract with K&M two days after the January 2 incident, saying the company has violated its agreement. The contract required two aides be the on the bus and that only children from Paterson be on it. But Rutherford police have said there was one aide on the vehicle and that the bus was on its way to Lyndhurst to drop off a student who lived in that Bergen County town.
“If someone was doing their job, I’m not sure how she would get off that bus,’’’ Stewart said. White said she doesn’t recall ever seeing a second aide on the bus when it came to pick up or drop off her daughter.
Stewart said his firm, Hunt, Hamlin & Ridley, has sent the school district a notice of its intent to file a lawsuit. The family also is weighing a lawsuit against K&M, the lawyer said.
K&M has not responded to PatersonPress.com’s phone messages. The school district has declined to comment on the case – other than to announce it terminated K&M’s contract - because it remains under investigation.
White isn’t buying the Rutherford police comment that her daughter, Onynx Williams, “jumped” out of the bus’ emergency back door. The only injuries the child suffered were to the back of her head, said Stewart. White and Stewart said they see those injuries as evidence she must have fallen from the back of the bus and not deliberately jumped.
New Jersey Motor Vehicles Commission officials said school bus emergency doors must be equipped with special bars designed to prevent someone from accidentally opening then by simply bumping into them. In order to open a properly functioning emergency door, someone must reach around the bar and push the lever, officials said.
“My sister was not suicidal, regardless of what her disability was,’’ said Williams’ adult sister, Rontairey Griffin.
In fact, Griffin and White say that Onynx was having a good day prior to the fatal incident. On that morning, the first day of school after the holiday break, she was bringing Christmas presents to her teachers at the Venture school in Hackensack, a program for students with psychiatric problems. Onynx did not have the money to buy presents before the holidays, said her sister. “She had to get all her Christmas money to buy her teachers gifts,’’ said Griffin. “She didn’t buy her sisters gifts. She bought her teachers gifts.’’
White said the staff at Venture told them Onynx had a good day at school. “The principal said that when she got on that bus she was happy,’’ said the grieving mother. Moreover, Onynx was looking forward to her four-year-old nephew’s birthday party that night. Onynx already had told other family members they could have just one cupcake each at the party, so she could get more for herself. “Nothing could have stopped her from getting to those cupcakes,’’ Griffin said.
Her mother and sister declined to say what Onynx’s diagnosis was. She attended several Paterson schools – Numbers 7, 8, 18 and 28 – before she was placed in a program for children with special needs in fourth grade. She started the Venture program during the 2011-12 school year when the school was located in Rockleigh and went to the Hackensack location this year when it was relocated there. She was in 9th grade.
Onynx, who was born in Paterson, was the youngest in a family of seven sisters and one brother. She loved listening to music and almost was wearing earphones connected to her MP3 player or iPod, her family members said. She often played with her Xbox and was handy enough with gadgets that she could take it apart and put it back to together again, they said.
“I’m at a heart’s loss because my baby is not here,’’ said White.
Onynx’ mother said she received a phone message about the incident from Rutherford police saying her daughter was in an accident and that she should go to the hospital. The call, she said, came in at about 3::30 pm, she said, which is roughly about the time Rutherford police have said the incident happened.
“They didn’t say it was an emergency, hurry up, anything,’’ said White. “We thought it was a bump or something.’’
But when she arrived at Hackensack Memorial Medical Center and was greeted by a priest, White said she realized something had gone awfully wrong. After she spoke to a doctor, White said she was allowed to visit Onynx. “When I walked in and aw all the respirators and all the machines hooked up to her, it was terrible.’’
Onynx never regained consciousness and died on January 5, her family said.
“This is every parent’s worst nightmare,’’ said Stewart.