Monday, June 18, 2018
Public safety

Parents of autistic girl kicked off bus sue Hillsborough schools

TAMPA — One year after school bus driver Stephanie Wilkerson was accused of kicking an 8-year-old autistic girl down a flight of bus stairs, the girl's parents are suing the Hillsborough County school district and School Board.

Kyinesha Johnson broke her ankle in the fall and couldn't walk for nearly two months, her parents say. In a lawsuit filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court last week, Curtis and Margaret Johnson blame a lack of training and supervision of the district's special-needs employees.

They list other incidents that have plagued the county's exceptional student education program, including the 2012 deaths of 7-year-old Isabella Herrera, who had a neuromuscular disorder and died after she stopped breathing on a school bus, and Jennifer Caballero, an 11-year-old with Down syndrome who wandered away from her gym class at Rodgers Middle School in Riverview and drowned in a pond.

"The school board and school district engaged in an ongoing pattern, practice and custom of failing to ensure the safety and well-being of ESE students," the civil complaint says. Wilkerson's actions were "egregious" and "shock the conscience," it says. The Johnsons are seeking damages of at least $15,000.

On Sept. 28, 2012, Wilkerson urged the 8-year-old girl to get off the bus, but Kyinesha was having trouble following directions because of her disability, the suit says. She just stood in the stairwell. Her pause was captured on the bus' surveillance video, released by prosecutors in March.

The video shows Wilkerson pushing the girl, causing her to fall to the ground outside Tampa Bay Boulevard Elementary School in Tampa. At the hospital, a doctor said the girl had a sprained ankle.

However, a few days later, the girl complained of pain and refused to walk. A different doctor said she had fractured her ankle.

The lawsuit says that Kyinesha was unable to walk for nearly two months. She either used a wheelchair or crawled.

Wilkerson was immediately suspended, then fired. She was also charged with aggravated child abuse.

School district spokesman Stephen Hegarty declined to comment this week because of the open litigation. But in the past, he has called Wilkerson's actions "completely unacceptable." Also, the district has contended it is not responsible for what it considers an "intentional act."

A school district attorney has cited a state law that says the government is not liable if an employee acts "in bad faith or with malicious purpose or in a manner exhibiting wanton and willful disregard of human rights, safety or property."

The school district has not formally replied to the complaint.

Wilkerson's criminal trial is scheduled to begin March 24.

Times staff writer Marlene Sokol contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.

Comments
Motorcyclist and pedestrian die in Pasco crash

Motorcyclist and pedestrian die in Pasco crash

NEW PORT RICHEY — A motorcyclist and pedestrian both died in a crash Saturday night near Palmetto Road and U.S. 19, police reported.About 10:30 p.m., a St. Petersburg man, 41, was riding a 2012 Honda motorcycle north on the highway, according to the ...
Published: 06/17/18
1 dead, 20 injured in New Jersey arts festival shooting

1 dead, 20 injured in New Jersey arts festival shooting

TRENTON, N.J — Shooting broke out at an all-night art festival in Trenton, New Jersey, early Sunday, sending people stampeding from the scene and leaving one suspect dead and 20 people injured, a local prosecutor said. Many of the 20 injured were tre...
Published: 06/17/18
Mazzaro’s Italian Market closed after Friday night warehouse fire

Mazzaro’s Italian Market closed after Friday night warehouse fire

ST. PETERSBURG — Mazzaro’s Italian Market will be closed throughout the weekend after a warehouse fire broke out Friday.A St. Petersburg Police officer noticed smoke coming from the market at 22nd Ave. N around midnight Friday, said St. Petersburg F...
Published: 06/16/18
A fentanyl death. A crackdown on opioid dealers. Will it help?

A fentanyl death. A crackdown on opioid dealers. Will it help?

TAMPA — Loueita Hargens had known for years how her son Bradley Dykes would die. She had seen him cycle through drugs of choice, had lost track of the number of times he’d wound up in the hospital or prison.A recovering alcoholic herself, she cut him...
Published: 06/16/18
Deputies: Body found in Pasco lake is New Port Richey man, 74

Deputies: Body found in Pasco lake is New Port Richey man, 74

Deputies identified a body found in Frierson Lakes in Hudson on Thursday as a 74-year-old New Port Richey man.Kress Luebke’s kayak was seen overturned in the water on Thursday night, according to the Pasco Sheriff’s Office.A resident living along Fri...
Updated: 11 hours ago
St. Petersburg police make arrest 31 years after sexual assault

St. Petersburg police make arrest 31 years after sexual assault

ST. PETERSBURG — Police arrested a man Friday in connection with a 31-year-old sexual assault case and believe he’s connected to other unsolved cases from decades ago.Anthony Stokes, 56, faces a charge of armed sexual battery, according to St. Peters...
Published: 06/15/18
Records detail Wrigley heir’s $480,000 betrayal by trusted employees

Records detail Wrigley heir’s $480,000 betrayal by trusted employees

ODESSA — One day in the summer of 2014, Helen Rich spotted a Facebook post about an aging black Labrador in Kansas named Lady who badly needed a new home. The author and heir to the Wrigley gum fortune had recently lost her own Black lab. Rich decide...
Published: 06/15/18
Hillsborough Hispanic women targeted in lottery scam

Hillsborough Hispanic women targeted in lottery scam

TAMPA — Maria Pena-Lebron, 83, was walking out of Fresco y Mas with her groceries in May when she was approached by a woman wearing a straw hat, who pleaded with her for help. The stranger claimed to be an undocumented immigrant and therefore unable ...
Published: 06/15/18
Tampa fire captain demoted for stripping off shirt, daring homeless man to fight

Tampa fire captain demoted for stripping off shirt, daring homeless man to fight

TAMPA — Tampa Fire Rescue Capt. Jeremy Finney was, by all accounts, a model firefighter — until he lost his cool. The outburst cost him two ranks.Finney has served nearly 16 years in the department and was a member of the Tactical Medical Response Te...
Published: 06/15/18
Coaster that derailed in Daytona Beach had reported safety issues in 2017

Coaster that derailed in Daytona Beach had reported safety issues in 2017

DAYTONA BEACH — Two roller coaster riders fell 34 feet (10 meters) when their car derailed and was left dangling from the track, and firefighters used ladders to pull eight others to safety high above the Daytona Beach Boardwalk. "The front car which...
Published: 06/15/18