My name is Joann Capobianco and I have been a resident of Inwood for over 20 years. I have three sons who have all been students in the Lawrence Public School District. My son Florian is a 2013 Lawrence High School graduate, my son Joseph is a Lawrence High School senior and my 11-year-old son Alec is currently a special needs student at Lawrence Middle School. All three of my children have used and depended on Independent Coach Bus services for transportation to and from school.
In September 2011, my son Alec, who is autistic, was on his bus on the way home from school. The bus driver, Tina Longo, made a routine stop on Grand Central Place, Inwood, and the bus matron escorted another child of the bus. At this time, my son Alec exited the bus without being noticed by either the bus driver or the bus matron. My son exited the bus six blocks away from his home.
This location is approximately 300 yards from a highly traveled intersection. Alec is not only unable to communicate his address and phone number but is often unaware and confused in unfamiliar surroundings. Both the bus driver and bus matron have been with Alec for over three years and are aware of his special needs and are also aware of his communication abilities.
At some point after Alec had already wrongly exited the bus, Tina Longo called my house and asked me if Alec was home. At that point, my heart stopped; my son was not home and the bus driver that was accountable for his safety was unaware his whereabouts. Within the next few minutes, every possible worst case scenario, and every one of my worst nightmares ran through my head. I am aware of my son’s abilities and disabilities and his safety is always my first and main concern. I cannot put into words the feelings and emotions that I felt that day.
I was assured by Ms. Longo that my son was at Number Five School and never boarded the bus that afternoon. I immediately called the school and spoke directly to Alec’s teacher and was told that he personally escorted Alec onto the bus that afternoon. I went into a frantic panic and called anyone and everyone I knew to find out any information about a location for my son. Thankfully, a police officer called my house and informed that my son was located. My unattended, autistic 10-year-old son was miraculously safe and unharmed in stranger’s home. The homeowner recognized my son’s disability and immediately contacted the local authorities and through this kind and thoughtful act, my son was kept safe that day.
After being reunited with my son, I contacted Independent Coach Bus to question the accountability of their employees. I spoke directly to the person in charge, Nancy Quaas, of Independent Coach Bus, and explained the heartache of that day’s occurrences. At that time, I was assured that Independent Coach Bus was handling the situation by terminating both the bus driver, Tina Longo, and the bus matron.
Unfortunately, I was deceived, as Tina Longo was merely transferred to another local bus yard. Recently, I discovered Tina Longo was not only still an employee of Independent Coach Bus but was reassigned to an Inwood bus route. I fear not only for the safety for my child but for the safety of all children using Independent Coach Bus.As previously stated, my son is still using Independent Coach Bus services as transportation to and from school. Unfortunately, even after the 2011 incident, my son is being picked up late for school on numerous mornings, which results in my late arrival to work. Not only has this incident not received the proper response from Independent Coach Bus, but additional issues have arisen.
As an active parent in the community, I feel that I have a responsibility to inform all parents of school age children of the actions of Independent Coach Bus. I hope this letter brings awareness to my fellow Five Town residents.