The families of the two students in bus crash filed suit against the school district for negligence and received a $10 million dollar settlement.
A horrific school bus crash sent shock waves through the Anaheim Hills, California, community on April 24, 2014. Bus driver Gerald Rupple was carting eleven students home from El Rancho Charter Middle School when he passed out behind the wheel. The bus swerved off the road and collided into a cluster of trees and a lamp post along a hillside, completely mangling the side of the vehicle. Part of a tree was forced throw the window, cutting a girl’s leg. The students would later speak to how quickly the school bus crash occurred. Jak Pintches, an eighth grader, indicated he was suddenly thrown from one side of the bus to the other without warning. He said after impact he suffered a back injury and went into shock.
While the cause of the crash was initially unclear with the thought that Rupple may have made an unsafe turn, the actual cause was eventually identified. Rupple, who survived the incident, had failed to report a medical condition to the school which is known to cause black outs. He was described by those who knew him as normally very caring and attentive to the students, a “cool guy”, but many reported to investigators that something was just “off” that day. Rupple wasn’t acting like himself, was abnormally quiet and almost incoherent. Passenger Nikolas Dutmers, 14, noted the driver didn’t check their seat belts like he normally would. There are currently no legal consequences for this in California, although the law requires buses to be equipped with belts.
Many neighbors, including a former student who used to ride the same route, rushed to the scene to help. One neighbor, Tony Nielson, who heard the school bus crash from his home nearby, described Rupple as “loopy” when he first came to the scene. When he asked the man for his name, Rupple stated he couldn’t remember. Nielson says the trees saved the bus from rolling completely over, which would likely have intensified the damage, causing greater injury to those abroad. The tree that ultimately stopped the bus from flipping may have saved some lives.
The eleven student passengers suffered injuries and were immediately rushed to nearby hospitals, with two taken directly to a trauma center. The others thankfully endured only minor scraps and bruises. The families of the two who weren’t so lucky filed suit against the school district for negligence, and this week, the court issued a $10 million dollar settlement in the case. Tyler Tiang, a teenage boy, was one of those victims. Tyler suffered an extensive brain injury which will likely require long term care. His family, along with the family of the other child, was represented in court by Darren Aitken’s law firm, and will receive $4 million to help Tyler receive the medical care he requires in order to finish school. It is the hope of the school district, as detailed in a statement, that the settlement will help heal the physical and emotional scars endured by these children and their families.
Rupple himself will go to trial on February 17th, facing charges of child endangerment, concealing his medical condition and causing injury to the students. Aitken has indicated his clients and their families have forgiven the man.