***Note: Dashcam audio begins after car stops at 0:55.
CUMMING – A substitute bus driver for Forsyth County Schools has been fired after it was found she dropped a 6-year-old student off on the side of Canton Highway near Cumming with no adult present.
Shelley McKinley, 48, who had been working for the district since 2013, was officially relieved of her duties Jan. 4, but the termination date was backdated to the Dec. 16 incident, according to Jennifer Caracciolo, a spokeswoman for Forsyth County Schools.
“We expect all drivers to follow our safety protocols and we take action when a child's safety is compromised,” Caracciolo said. “This situation is very serious and we are deeply sorry that it happened to the student and her family.”
Caracciolo said the incident occurred “while she was filling in for the regular route driver.
"She drove for four elementary and two middle schools in the past and had no prior incidents. She completed all district classes and trainings.”
The student, a kindergartner at Cumming Elementary School, was taken to the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office by Jane Holmes after she saw the girl on the side of the heavily commuted highway about 3 p.m.
Holmes, a private investigator who was driving with a passenger at the time, recorded audio and video of the scene using a dashboard camera, where the girl is heard saying through tears, “I lost my family because the bus took me to my house and nobody was there.”
Holmes then asks the girl, “nobody was there and they just left you?” to which she replies, “yeah.”
Caracciolo said public school buses in Forsyth County do not have cameras.
State protocol, which may vary from district to district, requires bus drivers to keep a child on the bus if no parents are present and no written permission is given to let him or her off. The driver must try the drop off after the route is finished and take the child back to the district’s transportation department if no one is home again.
The girl was supposed to be dropped off at her after-school daycare, but instead was left at the family’s home, said her father, Gilberto Pimentel.
He said the school has a letter saying she should be dropped off at the daycare.
Both parents were at work at the time and the house was locked, so the girl attempted to walk to the daycare herself.
“We wrote [her] statement in her words,” Pimentel said. “She basically said when the bus driver passed [the daycare], the bus driver asked her did she know where she lived and [she] said, ‘I live in the little blue house.’ When the bus driver found [the house], she said, ‘Hey, this is where you live’ and my daughter said, ‘no, I don’t need to be home, I need to go back to school – to daycare.’
“[She] told me the [bus driver] got up and told [her] she needed to get out and she escorted her out of the bus by her hand and left her there and drove off.”
Pimentel said he and his wife, Janice, were first notified that something was wrong by the daycare provider, who sent him a text message saying, “[She] coming here? Bus passed again?”
“I’m assuming ‘OK, no one was at the daycare, nobody was standing there.’ I thought it was the day care’s fault,” Pimentel said. “I called the school to see if [she] is there [so they] will be aware either my wife or myself will be heading there. Nobody answered at the school.”
His wife received a call from the sheriff’s office, he said, as she was on her way to the elementary school, thinking her daughter was left there.
“The officer [said] to my wife, ‘Do you know where your daughter is at?’” Pimentel said. “[My wife] says ‘She should be in school,’ and the officer says, ‘No, she’s here with me.’ After that, my wife calls me, of course devastated, crying that they found [her]. I’m thinking the worst.”
Pimentel said his daughter is still distraught.
“As parents, we thought we were just being paranoid about [letting] our daughter go back to the school bus,” Pimentel said. “We asked her, ‘Do you want to go back to the school bus, would it be OK?’ and she was like ‘No! I don’t want to go back; I’m afraid that I’m going to be left alone.’”
Pimentel said though he has received phone calls from the district saying the incident is under investigation.
“They could have dropped her off in front of a pervert’s house or she could have gotten hit by a car,” Pimentel said. “Thank God she didn’t get hurt, but, still, this should have never, ever, ever even occurred.”