March 13, 2007
AIKEN, S.C.---A seven-year-old autistic boy was left on his Aiken school bus for hours alone, and now his mother wants answers.
James Stephens fell asleep on his way to Chukker Creek Elementary and ended up at a bus lot at South Aiken High School.
Christina Stephens put James on the school bus at 6:30 Friday morning (March 9). Five hours later he was found wandering a busy parking lot alone, something that never should have happened.
We visited the Stephens family, and while we were there, Christina asked James if he wanted to ride the bus.
"No! No!" he said.
We asked Christina if James used to react that way.
"No, never," Christina said. "He used to love the bus."
The scary part is, James has autism.
"It's beyond scary," Christina said. "I mean, he has no way of expressing to me what went wrong. He has no way of telling me if anything went on, who talked to him, where he went. All that information a normal seven-year-old could give you, but he can't give me any of that."
The school system says it is protocol for a driver to check the school bus, but in this case, that didn't happen.
"Why can't a bus driver do something as simple as walk an aisle?" Christina asked.
The incident is still under investigation by the Aiken school system, but here's what they say happened:
James was on his bus headed to Chukker Creek Elementary. The bus unloaded before 7:30 in the morning, but James was asleep in a seat.
The bus driver then took the bus to the South Aiken High School bus lot sometime around 8 o'clock. The bus was parked, and at 11:45 James was found wandering alone in a nearby parking lot.
"Where was my son walking around at at these hours?" Christina asked. "He could've been snatched up by anyone. Anything could've happened. Thank God it didn't but it could have."
And while James isn't physically harmed, his mother fears he is harmed emotionally...which could affect his progress as an autistic child.
"I don't want it to set him in regression. That's my worst fear of anything. I've had him set in regression before and I can't do that again."
Peggy Trevaris, the principal at Chukker Creek Elementary, was out of the office when the incident occurred, but she says the school system is taking this situation very seriously.
It's been five days. The investigation was supposed to be wrapped up today, but there's no word yet on what Aiken administrators decided. We do know that checking the bus is protocol and depending on what they find, the bus driver could be fired.