Mother sues after daughter woke up on school bus alone, wandered into street looking for help

A Staten Island mother named Jenna Carlsen is suing the New York City Department of Education after her six-year-old daughter woke up alone in the back of a locked school bus last May and then wandered onto a busy street in an unfamiliar neighborhood looking for help.

(Video Credit: PIX11 News)

The incident occurred on May 27, 2022. The little girl fell asleep before the other children disembarked the bus that morning at their elementary school PS39 in Staten Island, New York, according to Fox News.

Around 9 am, Island Charter Inc. school bus driver Steven LaRocca and “matron” school bus attendant Pranvera Muca failed to properly check the bus to ensure no children were left on board, according to a lawsuit that was recently filed on behalf of Carlsen in New York State Supreme Court in Richmond County.

After dropping off the other children, LaRocca parked the bus at his home which is located four miles from the school. The lawsuit contends that he “once again did not check or did not properly check the bus for sleeping children.”

The child woke up and was able to get out of the back of the bus since the front doors were locked. She then proceeded to cross a busy street and then asked a stranger for help. The woman reportedly commented that the kindergartener “was scared and crying, and so she looked in her backpack to find a way to contact the parent.” Carlsen didn’t even know her daughter was not at school until the woman called her.

The mother “became extremely distressed upon learning that her child was not dropped off at her school and instead left alone on a bus parked on a busy street without any adult in sight and needed to ask a stranger for help,” Carlsen’s attorney, Joanne Olson, wrote in the lawsuit.

“The child suffered from fear and emotional distress and was recklessly put in danger of serious physical harm,” the suit asserts. “The child’s mother suffered tremendous distress, fear, pain, and suffering when she realized her child did not show up at school and instead was with an unknown stranger.”

The driver, the bus company, the bus attendant, and the school system are all being named in the suit and are accused of negligence.

“It is foreseeable that if a 6-year-old child is left alone on board a school bus, on a busy city street, and not dropped off as expected to her school, the child would suffer injury; it would endanger the welfare of the child; and would cause pain, suffering, and distress to the child and the child’s mother,” the suit charges.

The mother told WNBC at the time of the incident that due to the driver’s negligence, her daughter could have been kidnapped.

I called the bus driver, cursed him out. Possibly everything that could come out, came out,” Carlsen recounted. “It takes how long to go up the aisle to make sure nobody’s on the bus?… It could have went a totally different way. She could have got some crazy friggin’ person that would have kidnapped her.”

According to the N.Y. Daily News, neither the driver nor the bus matron was arrested after the incident. The complaint was then closed out.

James Clinton, who is a spokesman for Staten Island D.A. Michael McMahon said that based on the circumstances of the incident, investigators found “no probable sufficient evidence to support an arrest for endangering the welfare of a child.”

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