Parents say list of mistakes led to daughter's death

TAMPA, Florida -- Details are coming out in the death of a 7-year-old Hillsborough student with special needs. She died January 26, a day after she had breathing problems on her school bus. The parents are suing the school district for negligence.

Hillsborough School district officials say the bus driver and bus aide followed procedure, but Isabella Herrera's parents say a long list of mistakes the afternoon of January 25 lead to her death, starting the moment she boarded the school bus.

Isabella Herrera boarded her school bus to head home at around 2:07 p.m. "They were supposed to be trained by physical therapists at the school to slightly tilt her chair so head would not bobble," says Isabella's mother, Lisa Herrera.

Isabella's head was not secured. It's seen moving back and forth in bus surveillance video. Seventeen minutes into the bus ride, the aide notices Isabella gasping for air. The bus aide, Joanna Hamilton, shouts, "Get on the phone. K-6, we need 911."

Instead, the aide calls Isabella's mother and the bus driver follows district protocol, calling dispatch on the radio for help at 2:25 p.m. The radio does not work.

"It is not working," says Tonia Dole-Pizarro, the school bus driver.

Hamilton asks, "Is it on?"

Pizarro says, "It's on."

The bus driver phones a supervisor. Pizarro was a substitute bus driver that day and new on the job. The district hired Pizarro two weeks earlier on January 9.

"Bella did not have the same bus driver or the same aide every day. They were short bus drivers. They would pull her bus driver to drive buses for regular[education] school kids," says Lisa."I would not know from day to day who was coming to get her."

When the school bus pulled over near the intersection of Balm Riverview and Rhodine Roads, it stopped across the street from a pediatrician's office, and the bus driver knew this. You can hear her tell a supervisor. Pizarro said, "We are at The We Care for Kids Pediatrics at 11948 Balm Riverview Road."

Isabella's mother, Lisa, arrived on the bus at 2:32 p.m. She's the first one to give Isabella CPR and the first to call 911. Lisa told a 911 operator, "I need help! My daughter is not breathing. She's blue."

Hillsborough School District spokesperson Stephen Hegarty says, "Whenever there is an incident or near incident we would look to see if there is something we can do better."

But not in this case. District officials confirm there is no investigation. They say there is no indication anyone on the bus did anything wrong. Lisa says, "They did not investigate their aide, they did not investigate their bus driver, they did nothing. They swept us under the rug."

Hegarty says the school district will not address specifics about the case because it is not under litigation. "I will tell you there have been discussions if we need to step up training or change training or raise awareness," he says.

Lisa says she wants to spare other families her pain. "Our goal is to prevent this from happening again."

District officials say at the time of Isabella's death, the district was already installing new radios on buses, new digital cameras, and GPS trackers.

While the Hillsborough School District does not require bus staff to receive additional training to care for special needs kids, it does offer it. District officials sayit's up to the driver or aide to sign up for the course.

10 Newsdid some checking, and out of the school districts that responded, Polk, Pasco, and Sarasota counties require additional training of bus staff who work with special needs students. Pinellas officials say they require bus aides to receive additional training to work with ESE students.


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