PATERSON, NJ – City education officials are reviewing the performance of the private company that was transporting a 16-year-old special needs student from Paterson when she stepped out of the rear emergency door of the bus and was critically injured.
The student, who suffered serious head injuries, remained in the intensive care unit at Hackensack University Medical Center, said Rutherford Police Lt. John Russo.
The child, whose name has not been made public, was being taken home from the Venture school in Hackensack and the bus was passing through Rutherford on its way to drop off other students, Russo said.
Under a contract approved by Paterson Public Schools, K&M Transportation of Wallington had been busing the girl between her home in Paterson and the Bergen County special needs school on a daily basis, officials said.
K&M notified the school district of the incident at about 5 pm on Wednesday, according to district spokeswoman Terry Corallo. That was about 90 minutes after police say the student opened the back door of the bus and stepped out while it was still moving on Riverside Avenue, a few blocks from the Route 3 overpass, according to police.
There were three other students on the bus, along with the driver and an aide, according to Russo. The aide apparently had no chance to stop the child, Russo said. “It happened in a split second,’’ he said.
Russo said the bus was traveling within the street’s 35 mph limit at the time of the incident. “There appears to be nothing criminal here,’’ he said.
“The district is conducting a thorough investigation and will take appropriate action,’’ said Corallo. “At this time, our number one concern is for the student and our thoughts and prayers are with the student’s family.’’
The Bergen County Department of Human Services website says Venture is “a year-round school program that collaborates with Bergen County Special Services and provides extensive mental health services for youths with escalating psychiatric problems.’’
The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC), which oversees the operation of school buses, conducted a preliminary review of the driver's records and he appears to be in good standing, said state spokeswoman Elyse Coffey. The MVC also plans to conduct a spot inspection of the bus as a result of the incident, which is the routine procedure, she said.
All school buses in New Jersey undergo state inspections that check about 180 features on the buses twice a year, Coffey said. The bus involved in this incident had last been inspected on July 18, Coffey said.
The inspectors initially took the bus out of service for five failures, Coffey said. They were a loose rear view mirror, the condition of the tires, a broken rear "wrap-around,'' a broken handicapped interior light and a malfunctioning handicapped manual lift, according to state records.
But all of those problems were repaired the same day and the bus passed re-inspection that day, Coffey said. She said same-day repairs were performed on school buses in the state for about 95 percent of the flaws found in inspections.
State MVC records show that 12 of K&M's 15 buses failed their initial inspections on July 18 and that six of them were placed out-of-service that day. But all passed subsequent re-inspections, the records show.
K&M could not be reached for comment on Thursday.