Education

Family sues two years after disabled student dies on school bus

Whenever Kelssey Pierre-Louis thought about her future, she planned for two: herself, and her twin brother.

She knew that Kenneth Pierre-Louis, with severe autism and a seizure disorder, would never be able to provide for himself.

“I always knew whatever I get would have to be times two,” said Kelssey Pierre-Louis. “Because I was not brought into this world alone — I was brought into this world with him.”

She is now 20, and a pre-med student at Florida International University. But instead of planning a future for her brother, she’s planning a memorial. Kenneth Pierre-Louis, 18, died two years ago, slumped in the back of a Miami-Dade County public school bus.

Pierre-Louis’ family sued the county school board this week, saying that their loved one was left in his seat — seizing, covered in urine and in the throes of a heart attack — for 15 minutes before any of the four adults on the bus came to help.

According to the lawsuit, he died without any medical attention from employees because the young man, due to his handicap, had recently attacked one of the employees on the bus.

A bus driver and aide gave Miami-Dade police a different version. They said that Pierre-Louis began to seize as they pulled up to his house, and that 911 was called right away.

Through a district spokeswoman, School Board Attorney Walter Harvey declined to comment Friday.

“The district has not been served with a lawsuit on that case,” Chief Communications Officer Daisy Gonzalez-Diego wrote in an email. “And, once we are served, we won’t be able to comment since we don’t comment on pending litigation.”

The lawsuit was filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court on Wednesday, the second anniversary of Pierre-Louis’ death. It claims that the school principal, bus drivers and school board were negligent, discriminatory against a disabled person and that Pierre-Louis’ civil rights were violated.

“The issue is going to be if they called [911] timely. Did they do the appropriate thing timely? If they didn’t, would it have saved his life?” asked Gregg R. Schwartz, the attorney for Pierre-Louis’ family.

Here’s what happened, according to the lawsuit and a fire rescue incident report:

On Sept. 24, 2012, Dominique Jean placed her son on a district school bus, just as she had done every school day since he was 4 years old. It was the last time she saw him alive.

The bus was late coming home that day. Worried, Jean called North Miami Senior High, where her son went to school. A teacher reassured Jean that her son was on the bus and heading home.

When the bus finally pulled up, drivers told the mother her son had suffered a seizure, that he was asleep and that 911 had been called.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue was on the scene within four minutes. They found Pierre-Louis wedged between two seats; his eyes were fixed and dilated. Paramedics headed to North Shore Hospital and manually performed CPR along the way. The young man was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Paramedics noted in their report that witnesses said Pierre-Louis started seizing 15 minutes before they arrived.

Schwartz, the family’s attorney, said there were problems with the police investigation into the young man’s death. Only two of the adults on the bus that day have been interviewed by police, he said. Schwartz only discovered there were more witnesses after speaking with Pierre-Louis’ mother and requesting public records from the school board, he said.

“A kid died on the bus. You would think police would talk to all of them,” Schwartz said.

Kelssey Pierre-Louis said her family is suing to get answers and closure in her brother’s death.

She stopped playing basketball during her senior year in high school after her brother died. And she decided against a career working with kids who have disabilities. It would have been too difficult.

“I feel like every time I see a special child I would think of my brother. ... Mentally and physically, it’s not something you want to do to yourself,” she said.

Two years on, Kelssey Pierre-Louis said she is finally sleeping normally. Her brother’s pictures hang above the bed, though sometimes they are hard to look at.

“You went to school ... you came back, and your brother was gone. That’s not something you plan for as a high school senior. And then having to go back to school and having to go back to a normal life ...,” Kelssey Pierre-Louis trailed off. “That double plan you had, to buy two of everything, is gone.”

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