City to pay $100K to family of boy who died in school bus fall

The city of Baltimore agreed Wednesday to pay $100,000 to a West Baltimore family whose special-needs student died after falling from a moving school bus in 2010.

City Solicitor George Nilson said school officials knew that Jeremy C. Jennings Jr., the emotionally disturbed 6-year-old, needed to be restrained on the bus but failed to do so.

"A young, vulnerable child was sent off to school and didn't return home through no fault of his own," said Nilson, a member of the city Board of Estimates. "This was a special-needs kid who clearly had a problem. It was an avoidable accident."

The Board of Estimates voted unanimously Wednesday to approve the payment to settle the city school system's involvement in a lawsuit filed by the boy's mother.

Jeremy's family had sought $10 million on each of eight counts in the 2012 lawsuit. They alleged negligence by the city school system and the bus contractor, M.R. Hopkins Transportation Services Inc.

Nilson said the settlement dealt only with the allegations made against the city school system, which hired the bus company to transport Jeremy between his West Baltimore home and Villa Maria at St. Vincent's, the Catholic special-education school he attended in Baltimore County.

The family alleged that school officials knew Jeremy struggled with "impulse control" and had tried to jump from buses, but they did not follow their procedures and restrain him the day of the fatal fall. He died of head injuries two days after opening the door and falling from the moving bus Dec. 8, 2010.

The family also alleged that officials did not implement his Individualized Education Plan, which required him to have a safety vest on the bus.

Mary Koch, a partner at the law firm Murphy, Falcon & Murphy, which represents Jeremy's mother, declined to comment Wednesday.

Nilson said "there were a number of things that could have and should have been done by the bus company employees and city employees that were not done."

The family cited incident reports dating to May 2010 that showed Jeremy had behavioral problems on the bus. One day in October 2010, he stood at the rear of the bus for the entire ride. On Dec. 3, he tried to jump out the back door.

The day Jeremy fell, he first attempted to open the front door of the bus, according to the lawsuit, but the bus driver swatted at him with his hat and continued driving.

"Jeremy then turned around and walked right past [the aides], who simply watched him pass by, opened the emergency exit door at the rear of the bus and fell from a height of approximately 4-feet into oncoming traffic," the lawsuit said. "During this time, [the driver] continued operating the bus at about 30 miles per-hour."

City school officials said after the incident that the bus driver had broken protocol by not stopping the bus when Jeremy got up from his seat and that his license had been revoked.

Baltimore Sun reporters Alison Knezevich and Erica L. Green contributed to this article.

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