Queens, NY – NYS Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs Special Prosecutor Patricia E. Gunning announced the arrest of a bus driver and a matron employed by Gateway Counseling Center on endangering charges after an adult with special needs was left unattended on a transport bus for several hours in the June heat.

The driver, Steven Dupre of Brooklyn (DOB: 09/08/1988) and bus matron, Yolanda Gomez of Brooklyn (DOB: 11/15/1973) were both charged with one count of Endangering the Welfare of an Incompetent or Physically Disabled Person in the Second Degree, a Class A Misdemeanor. The two defendants were suspended from their positions.

The charges in this case stem from an incident that occurred on June 10 when Dupre picked up the service recipient at home and drove to the Gateway Day Habilitation program in Queens.  When they arrived at the day hab, it is alleged that Dupre and Gomez failed to ensure that the individual got off the bus. Dupre, apparently unaware the individual was still seated on the bus, drove the bus to a job interview, and later headed back to the day hab where he parked the bus for several hours with the victim still belted with the vehicle’s safety restraints.  When Dupre returned to the bus at the end of the program day, another worker noticed the victim, who was visibly upset, still inside the bus and reported the incident to the Justice Center’s Vulnerable Persons’ Central Register hotline.

While this individual suffered no serious physical injuries, the recorded high temperature on that day in New York City was 77 degrees. The heat inside enclosed vehicles can surpass 110 degrees in such conditions. The Justice Center has been raising public awareness of the dangers of leaving individuals with special needs unattended in vehicles, especially when temperatures are dangerously high or low.

“Failure to properly check the bus, thereby exposing a passenger to harm is unacceptable and in these circumstances criminal. The victim in this case is an individual with a developmental disability who spent many hours alone in an enclosed bus and was at risk of exposure to dangerously high temperatures that day,” said Special Prosecutor Gunning. “We are grateful to the Gateway employee who discovered the service recipient and reported the incident before a tragedy could have occurred. We encourage all provider agencies to review the Justice Center’s Spotlight on Prevention “Look Before You Leave” toolkit to learn how to protect those in their care from the consequences of being left unattended in a vehicle in hot or cold weather.”

Both defendants were arraigned in Queens County Criminal Court before the Honorable Gia Morris, released on their own recognizance and are scheduled to reappear in court at a later date. The case is being prosecuted by Justice Center Supervising Assistant Special Prosecutor David Kim.

The Justice Center’s Spotlight on Prevention Toolkit contains a great deal of information including case studies, fact sheets,  info graphics and a hangtag that can be placed on a transport vehicle’s rear view mirror to remind drivers they must look for passengers before departing their vehicle.

About the Justice Center

The Justice Center began operations on June 30, 2013.  It operates a toll-free hotline that receives reports of allegations of abuse, neglect and significant incidents 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Anyone who witnesses or suspects the abuse or neglect of a person with special needs can make a report. Mandated reporters who have reasonable cause to suspect that a reportable incident has occurred by staff must report it to the Justice Center immediately upon discovery.  The Justice Center is not a first responder so if a report involves an emergency situation, the caller is instructed to hang up and dial 9-1-1.

The Justice Center is authorized to investigate all reports of abuse and neglect, pursue administrative sanctions against staff found responsible for misconduct and its Special Prosecutor/Inspector General shares jurisdiction with local district attorneys to prosecute criminal offense allegations. The Justice Center notifies local district attorneys of all potential criminal cases.

Justice Center Individual and Family Support advocates provide guidance and information to victims, their families, personal representatives and guardians about the reporting and investigation process, offer support during criminal court proceedings and are available to accompany victims during interviews and court appearances.

Editor’s note: In compliance with Rule 3.6(b)(6) of the Rules of Professional Conduct, you are advised that a charge is an accusation and that a defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.