Hillsborough School District sued over 7-year-old, Isabel Herrera's, death

6:58 PM, Nov 1, 2012   |    comments
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Tampa, FL-- A federal law suit has been filed in US District Court against the Hillsborough School District over the circumstance surrounding the death of a 7-year-old girl with special needs. 

Isabella Herrera's last moments are recorded on the school bus camera.

"She loved pink, Barbies and playing dress up," says Lisa Herrera, Isabella's mother.

Lisa and Isabella's father, Dennis remember her fondly. 

"Her passion to strive in this world was so strong. She became a hero to me," says Dennis.

Isabella's mother says she suffered from a neuromuscular disorder that impacted her walking and head control. Otherwise, Lisa says, she was a normal kid who wanted to ride the school bus. 

"She felt good about it; she felt independent. She felt great. I trusted them to bring her home safe every day," says Lisa. 

On January 25, Isabella boarded the school bus at Sessums Elementary at 2:07 p.m. Her parents say the school bus driver and aid failed to slightly tilt Isabella's wheel chair so her head would be stabilized, as her Individual Education Plan or IEP requires. 

Lisa says during the three months Isabella rode the school bus, she had to remind bus drivers and aids about her daughter's needs. 

"They are supposed to be trained for each child's needs, each child on the bus- know their disability, know what to do," Lisa says.

The school bus video shows Isabella's head bobbing forward and backwards about a dozen times over a span of 17 minutes. At 2:24 p.m., the school bus aid calls out "Isabella- Isabella."

The Herrera's family attorney, Steven Maher, identified the school bus aid as Joanna Hamilton, and the school bus driver as Tonia Pizarro.

In the video, you then see Hamilton notice Isabella not breathing. She shouts out to the school bus driver to pull over and says, "Get on the phone; we need 911."

The bus pulls over on the road at the corner of Balm Riverview and Rhodine roads, across from a pediatrician's office.  

Instead of calling 911, the video shows Hamilton calling Isabella's mother as Pizarro radios dispatch- but the radio doesn't work at first and she phones in.

Lisa says, "It's appalling to me; I was the first person to be called instead of 911."

At 2:32 p.m. Lisa boards the bus to find a lifeless daughter.

"She was blue. My first instinct was to give her air," says Lisa. 

She is seen picking her daughter up from her wheelchair and laying her across on a bus seat. 

Lisa was the first one to give Isabella CPR.

 "When I realized no one called 911, I realized it was the only thing I can do," she recalls. 

It's Lisa, not the bus driver or aid, who calls 911 for help.

Once again, in the video, Lisa is heard frantically asking 911 for help. She says, "We need an ambulance. My daughter- she can't breathe, she's blue."

"I can't express in words seeing your child with no life," Lisa tells us.

Only then does the video show Pizarro and Hamilton stepping in to give Isabella CPR. 

Lisa calls 911 again "Please hurry. She's blue, she's blue. Please hurry."

Isabella died the next day. Her organs were donated to three patients. 

Both parents say the school district is negligent.

"It starts from the top, down with people being trained properly," says Lisa.

"The system is broken," Dennis says. "The system should protect our children by training them with basic common prevention."

"Our goal is to prevent this from happening again," Lisa says of the reason they are filing suit against the school district.

"You saw this child die on the school bus," says Steven Maher, the Herrera's attorney. "No one called 911, no one attempted CPR or to get her out of her seat, and the bus was parked in front of a pediatric clinic." 

Maher says the school bus video is an hour of "hell."

All Lisa has left is her memories of Isabella and the locket she wears around her neck. 

"This is her last school picture and it contains her ashes. I wear it every day.She was beautiful, so smart- I want people to look past her chair and see she was fun little girl who loved life and wanted to live it," she says.

As for the training school bus drivers receive, Stephen Hegarty, school district spokesperson, says school bus drivers receive basic training at the beginning of the school year, which includes CPR. 

But drivers and aids with special needs kids are not required any additional training, even though the district offers it. Hegarty says it's up to the driver to take the course.

Because of this and other cases, Hegarty says the district is talking about taking another look at its training policy.

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