Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hillsborough school officials produced no report after student's death

TAMPA — In the aftermath of Isabella Herrera's fatal January ride on a school bus, Hillsborough County Public Schools officials reviewed video of those excruciating minutes.

They saw how an aide sprang to action after 7-year-old Bella, as she was called, began choking. A neuromuscular disorder made it hard for Bella to hold her head up. In a federal lawsuit filed this week, her parents contend district workers did not properly position her wheelchair.

Neither the driver nor the aide called 911, a report by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office confirmed. Instead, driver Tonia Dole-Pizarro used a phone to call a supervisor and request emergency help after she had trouble using a radio to call a dispatcher. The aide, Joanna Hamilton, told deputies she made two calls to Bella's mother.

The School District appears not to have prepared a written report on any of this. Spokesman Stephen Hegarty said no report exists in the Office of Professional Standards, which would have investigated if there were any reason to discipline the two employees.

And he said he did not know of any other reports, aside from the one from the Sheriff's Office.

As to why there were no repercussions for not calling 911, Hegarty said that is not how employees are supposed to respond to bus emergencies.

Instead, they are instructed to radio the dispatcher, using the phrase "red alert." The dispatch workers call for help while the driver and aide attend to the students on the bus. "The dispatcher knows where you are and what the situation is," Hegarty said.

By the time help arrived — some 15 minutes after Bella went into distress — the driver and aide were trying to revive her. Bella was rushed to Brandon Regional Hospital and then St. Joseph's Children's Hospital, where doctors said she was nonresponsive and unable to breathe on her own.

She was pronounced dead the following day.

A crisis team helped break the news to families at Sessums Elementary School, where Bella was in the second grade. Reactions were mixed on the School Board. Some members recalled the incident and some did not.

Member Susan Valdes said she would have liked to see documentation from the district. "In my opinion, yes." Back when she managed a medical clinic, Valdes said she learned, "if you didn't document it, you didn't do it. Part of your job is doing a report."

Outgoing Chairwoman Candy Olson did not find fault with the lack of a report. "Do you want to spend your time doing reports or doing your job?" she asked.

Olson said it was clear, from the video the Herrera family distributed at a news conference after the lawsuit was filed, how distressed everyone was as Bella struggled to breathe. "They were devastated," Olson said.

She did not mean to be dismissive, she said. "I can't ever be satisfied when a child dies."

But she added, "A child died the next day in a hospital. To say she died on the bus is a lot of malarkey."

Bella's parents, in their lawsuit, say their daughter died because of a pattern of wrongdoing that included a lack of staff training in how to position Bella and their failure to call 911.

The district's Exceptional Student Education Department has been rocked by several troubling incidents, including a temporary teacher accused of grinding a shoe in a child's face and a high school teacher who was shown asleep in class in a televised video.

Last month 11-year-old Jennifer Caballero, who had Down syndrome, drowned in a pond behind Rodgers Middle School after walking away from physical education class. The Sheriff's Office is investigating and the School District will begin its own inquiry afterward.

Valdes said she wants the board to discuss issues involving special needs students, perhaps at a business meeting called Thursday to consider a planned high school lacrosse program.

Staff writer Jessica Vander Velde contributed to this report. Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]

Hillsborough school officials produced no report after student's death 11/02/12 [Last modified: Friday, November 2, 2012 10:45pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Lightning edges Red Wings on road

    Lightning Strikes

    DETROIT — The digs were different, the Lightning seeing the masterfully-done new Little Caesar's Arena for the first time.

    Lightning center/Red Wings’ killer Tyler Johnson gets past defenseman Trevor Daley on his way to the first goal of the game.
  2. Armwood pulls away to defeat Plant 27-7, remain undefeated


    SEFFNER — First-year Armwood coach Evan Davis pulled out all the stops to get his team psyched for Monday's annual grudge match against Plant.

    Armwood defensive end Malcolm Lamar (97) gets fired up before the start of the game between Plant High School Panthers and the Armwood High School Hawks in Suffer, Fla. on Monday, Oct. 16, 2017.
  3. Clearwater police: Car thief dead after owner fires gun


    CLEARWATER — One man is dead after the owner of a car fired shots at the thieves who were stealing it Monday night, police said.

  4. Iraqi forces sweep into Kirkuk, checking Kurdish independence drive


    KIRKUK, Iraq — After weeks of threats and posturing, the Iraqi government began a military assault Monday to curb the independence drive by the nation's Kurdish minority, wresting oil fields and a contested city from separatists pushing to break away from Iraq.

    Iraqi security forces patrol Monday in Tuz Khormato, about 45 miles south of Kirkuk, a disputed city that the government seized in response to last month’s Kurdish vote for independence.
  5. Trump and McConnell strive for unity amid rising tensions


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, tried to convey a sense of harmony Monday after months of private feuding that threatened to undermine their party's legislative push in the coming weeks to enact a sweeping tax cut.

    President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell field questions Monday in the Rose Garden of the White House. “We have been friends for a long time,” Trump said.