Girl, 6, left on bus during school day


Published: Saturday, January 20, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 19, 2007 at 10:50 p.m.

BELL — A 6-year-old Gilchrist County girl spent the entire school day on her bus after the driver failed to notice the child asleep in her seat when the vehicle was dropped off at the district transportation office Wednesday morning.

The girl, Kelly Thornton, told her father she spent the day snacking, napping and walking around the bus until the driver, Joan Hoffman, returned to start her afternoon route. Kelly was taken to a doctor as a precaution, and she is fine medically, according to her father, Chris Thornton.

"But she could not sleep and did not want to get back onto the bus," Thornton said.

Hoffman, 37, of Bell, resigned Thursday, officials said.

The driver called the Thornton family to apologize Wednesday night.

"But that doesn't fix the problem. I don't want this to happen to anyone else," Thornton said.

Hoffman could not be reached for comment Friday.

School officials and family members said Kelly and her 8- and 5-year-old brothers boarded a bus bound for Bell Elementary School as usual on Wednesday. During the ride, Kelly apparently fell asleep.

After dropping off students in Bell, Hoffman drove to the district's transportation office on U.S. 129 between Bell and Trenton.

School Superintendent Buddy Vickers said Hoffman told her supervisor that she did a walk-through on the bus after she parked it — as required by the district — and then left for a doctor's appointment.

"She said she saw what she thought was a jacket on one of the seats," but did not pick it up, Vickers said. "She is broken-hearted about this, but leaving a child on a bus is an unpardonable sin."

When Hoffman returned to the bus to begin her afternoon route, she found Kelly.

The little girl told her father that she stayed on the bus all day.

"She had some snacks with her — a few Oreos and a Capri Sun to drink — so she had those, and she took another nap and she also walked around in the bus for a while," said Thornton, a correctional officer for the Florida Department of Corrections.

Hoffman immediately reported the situation to her supervisor, David Spencer, and was placed on paid leave, Vickers said. Kelly and her brothers were taken to the school office in Bell and held there until their parents could be notified and could pick up the children at school.

Thornton said he took Kelly directly to the family's doctor to be checked over to ensure she was not suffering from dehydration or anything else.

School district personnel records show Hoffman worked as a bus driver in Ohio for 12 years before being hired in Gilchrist County as a substitute driver in September 2004.

Hoffman was promoted to a regular route in August 2005 and was earning $11.25 an hour for driving her route.

Her personnel file included good performance reviews in reference letters from Ohio and for bus driving in Gilchrist County.

Gilchrist County Sheriff David Turner said Friday the incident was not under investigation by his department.

After consulting with the State Attorney's office, Turner said, "We have no dog in this fight right now. The school and the parents have not notified us, therefore it is not up to us to weigh in at this time. The parents left it with the school and the school certainly has not contacted us."

Karen Voyles can be reached at 486-5058 or voylesk@gvillesun.com

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