The Hillsborough County School Board is facing a lot of questions surrounding the death of a disabled student, and why the driver and the aide on her school bus did not immediately call 911 when she was having trouble breathing.
The girl, 7-year-old Isabella Herrera, used a wheelchair because of a neuromuscular condition. One day back in January, she started having trouble breathing while on the school bus. A day later, she died in the hospital.
What happened on the bus was recorded on video. When Isabella started gasping for air, the bus aide realized something was wrong.
"She can't breathe, she's turning blue. Ok, we've got a child that can't breathe. She's turning blue. I know. I'm trying," the aide says.
Instead of calling 911, the driver called the bus dispatch center. The surveillance video shows the driver was unable to reach dispatch by radio, and had to use her cell phone instead.
Isabella's mother is the one who ended up calling 911, after the aide called her and she rushed to the bus. That was 13 minutes later.
"It's appalling that I was the first person to be called, instead of 911," said Lisa Herrera. "I couldn't do anything. It took 14 minutes for an ambulance to get there. She went 30 to 40 minutes without oxygen."
The verbatim policy from the school bus driver handbook for what to do in a medical emergency is this:
"To notify the Transportation Department of a Red Alert emergency the following announcements will be made over the radio"
School Bus Driver: " Red Alert"
Dispatch: "Red Alert- Please Clear the Air"
School board vice-chair April Griffin said there is a policy in place that directs school bus staff to call dispatch in case of emergencies. But she says it is an outdated policy, written for a different time.
"This was put in place in 1991 when most people didn't have cell phones," she said. Griffin added that the policy was updated in 2002, but it still says basically what it said in 1991.
Current and former bus drivers confirm they are told to call dispatch in emergencies.
"We could not call 911 under any circumstances, none. We had to call dispatch," said one driver, who did not want to be identified.
The driver added that often times, it is difficult to get through to dispatch.
"There would be some instances, depending on the time you're calling, if there's a rush. You might not even get a hold of dispatch because so many people are calling in," the driver said.
In fact, the surveillance video from the day of Isabella Herrera's emergency shows the driver was unable to reach dispatch by radio, and she had to use her cell phone instead.
At least two other former bus drivers have told FOX 13 that they were also told to call dispatch during emergencies, instead of 911.
Griffin has asked for a workshop to discuss the issues around the 911 procedure. She always wants to find out why she and other board members did not know about the death of Isabella Herrera.
She indicates that changes are on the way.
"When does common sense come in?" she asked. "Regardless of what they're told to do in a procedure, when does common sense come in and you say, a child is in distress, call 911?"
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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