Driver charged after student left in van
Police: Palmerton man, 75, drove home, found special-needs high schooler four hours later
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.