Hillsborough County parents are outraged that the school bus driver who crashed into a pond with their kids onboard nearly two years ago is not facing charges.
Friday, Judge Michael Williams finds Lenoir Sainfimin is not guilty of careless driving. It's not the outcome parents have been waiting to hear.
Investigators have said the driver had been speeding and plunged into the water in Odessa in 2015, while taking kids home from Bryant Elementary School. The driver claims bad brakes are to blame and says old buses continue to put kids in danger.
“I'm upset, because that guy did it, so he should be punished,” says mother Erika Linares.
Linares blames the bus driver for causing the crash that traumatized her son, Nicholas.
“He was scared. It shouldn't have happened. It’s a baby - they're kids,” says Linares.
She and other parents can't believe Sainfimin has been cleared.
“I know three kids who were on that bus that day are not riding the bus anymore, because they're scared to death. Now, this driver walks free? I'm sorry, but that's just not right,” says mother Sylvia Vega.
“Okay, now who is going to be at fault?” wonders Linares.
“I’ve seen the video, and no evidence of speed given," says Judge Williams. "The issue was, did the brakes fail? But we’ve had no testimony relating to brakes from the state. The video shows him, this court viewed it, appears to show him alert and paying attention at the time the incident occurred.
"Due to the lack evidence and no witnesses here today, the court finds Mr. Sainfimin not guilty in this case," the judge concluded.
“God is good. I'm happy,” Sainfimin says.
Investigators say the bus GPS showed he'd been driving 48 mph in a 35-mph zone. The judge also noted deputies didn't show up to fight the dismissal.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office tells 10News that deputies testified last month, and their subpoenas had been waived by Sainfimin’s attorney.
Sainfimin points to failing brakes in the 20-year-old bus.
The district insists investigators didn't find any mechanical problems with the bus after the crash.
“I pressed the brake of the bus. I checked, the brake had failed. I tried to do the best I can to save the kids’ life,” Saimfimin says.
“He had no fault," says Sainfimin’s attorney, Ralph Fernandez. "He did everything that he could to avoid the accident. He was pumping the brakes.
"We have an old fleet, an old bus, recurring problems that jeopardized the safety of the children, and at the same time they are coupled with budgetary constraints,”
Tanya Arja, Hillsborough County School District spokeswoman, disagrees the buses are unsafe.
"The older buses, doesn't mean unsafe buses. Our buses are checked every 30 days, so our buses are on the road, and they're safe on the road. We make sure our drivers have all the training they need, and we ensure our buses are checked out and in compliance."
Hillsborough County has added 400 new school buses to its fleet in the past 3 years.
The crash is costing the district. Six families have settled a claim. The district says that doesn’t mean it admits any wrongdoing.
Attorney Robert Rubin settled a claim for a father who had two daughters on the bus. The claim cites driver negligence and district negligence for hiring Sainfimin.
The maximum payout is $300,000 per family. One claim against the district is still pending.
The district says the judge's decision doesn't mean the driver's getting his job back.
“The bus was not at fault, so they put the blame on the driver. Based on the evidence we have, we still believe this driver would not be a safe driver for our children, so we would not look to re-employ this person,” Arja says.
Sainfimin says he doesn’t want to work for the district again.
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