Driver charged af­ter stu­dent left in van

Po­lice: Palmer­ton man, 75, drove home, found spe­cial-needs high schooler four hours later

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By Sarah M. Wo­j­cik

A 75-year-old Car­bon Le­high In­ter­me­di­ate Unit 21 driver was charged with reck­less en­dan­ger­ment Fri­day af­ter fail­ing to check the seats of his van, then leav­ing a stu­dent with spe­cial needs alone in­side the ve­hi­cle for four hours in the drive­way of his Palmer­ton res­i­dence, po­lice said.

Rodger San­der, of the 300 block of Har­vard Av­enue in Palmer­ton, was charged with a sin­gle mis­de­meanor. It was mailed to his home as a sum­mons.

The Palmer­ton Po­lice De­part­ment was called to the home at 12:36 p.m. Wed­nes­day to as­sist emer­gency med­i­cal per­son­nel af­ter San­der came back to the van to find the 19-year-old stu­dent in­side the van. He was taken to a hos­pi­tal as a pre­cau­tion, but po­lice say he is do­ing well and was not in­jured.

Court records say San­der was driv­ing the stu­dents to Le­high­ton Wed­nes­day morn­ing and yelled, “every­one off the bus” be­fore driv­ing away from the school and to­ward his home. San­der told po­lice he did not check the seats for stu­dents be­fore leav­ing the van in his drive­way at 8:45 a.m.

About four hours later, San­der re­turned to the van and saw the stu­dent in the back of the ve­hi­cle sit up. He told po­lice he knew the stu­dent was not able to speak and had not seen the stu­dent dur­ing the drop-off at the school. San­der be­lieved the stu­dent may have been ly­ing on the seat then and es­caped no­tice. The stu­dent defe­cated him­self while on the bus alone, court records say.

The Car­bon Le­high In­ter­me­di­ate Unit 21 has launched its own in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into how the stu­dent was left unat­tended for so long. In a state­ment Wed­nes­day, Elaine Eib said the school has pro­to­cols and pro­ce­dures for driv­ers to en­sure that no stu­dents are left on ve­hi­cles.

“What oc­curred to­day is a mat­ter of the ut­most con­cern to us, and we will do ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to in­ves­ti­gate how this oc­curred,” Eib said in the state­ment.

Eib has re­fused to re­spond to re­quest for more in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing whether San­der has been sus­pended or is still driv­ing a ve­hi­cle for the in­ter­me­di­ate unit.

In­ter­me­di­ate units are agen­cies that of­fer spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion, be­hav­ioral health and other ser­vices for stu­dents as well as pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment for teach­ers and other staff. Car­bon Le­high In­ter­me­di­ate Unit 21, which is based in Sch­necksville, serves 14 school dis­tricts in the two coun­ties.

Cases where stu­dents or peo­ple with spe­cial needs are left unat­tended on ve­hi­cles are rare in the Le­high Val­ley. But dur­ing a 2010 in­ci­dent in Bucks County, a 20-year-old with se­vere autism died of hy­per­ther­mia af­ter spend­ing 44 min­utes in the ve­hi­cle in late July.

Stacey Strauss, a for­mer coun­selor for Woods Ser­vices, pleaded guilty to ne­glect of care of a de­pen­dent per­son, in­vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter and reck­less en­dan­ger­ment in the case. She was sen­tenced in 2011 to two to five years in state prison and per­ma­nently banned from per­form­ing any work for peo­ple with disabiliti­es.

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