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Aide accused of leaving girl alone on Hillsborough school bus for five hours

TAMPA — A Hillsborough County school aide left a 3-year-old with special needs unattended on a school bus for five hours Friday before the little girl was discovered, authorities said.

Sarah Thomas, 61, of Riverview was arrested Monday and faces a child neglect charge. She also was fired.

She was working as a caregiver for students on a school bus Friday when the 3-year-old girl boarded the bus in Seffner about 7:20 a.m., sheriff's deputies said.

The girl, who was not identified, was supposed to get off the bus at Lopez Elementary School, 200 N Kingsway Road, but was found hours later still sitting in it, deputies said.

The girl had spent all day on the bus, parked during the day at Valrico Elementary School, without food, water or a restroom, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said.

The bus driver discovered her about 1 p.m.

The girl was taken to a local hospital, where she was found to be unharmed.

Authorities said Thomas was negligent in not assuring the child was taken off the bus at her scheduled stop. She was released from jail Monday afternoon after posting a bond for her $2,000 bail.

Records show she has no previous criminal history in Florida.

A man who answered the door Monday night at her home in Riverview said Thomas had no comment.

Thomas has worked for the Hillsborough County School District as an aide since 2009, according to district spokesman Stephen Hegarty.

She worked on a temporary basis for two years before being permanently hired less than two months ago.

As a bus aide, Thomas was tasked with conducting a "sweep" to ensure that no children or personal items were left behind as the bus was emptied, Hegarty said.

"We found this to be a very serious action, so we terminated her immediately," Hegarty said. "Obviously, she did not do that part of her job."

Because Thomas was still in the probationary period of her employment when the incident took place, the school district was able to fire her instantly, Hegarty said.

She had a good record as an employee before this, he said.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

Aide accused of leaving girl alone on Hillsborough school bus for five hours 12/19/11 [Last modified: Monday, December 19, 2011 11:39pm]
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