WATERLOO — Six-year-old Denterrio Moore woke up on an empty bus seat Tuesday afternoon, sweating and alone, unsure of where he was as outside temperatures reached the high 80s.
“He said, ‘I was sweating to death. I almost died,’” his mom, Shantae Slater, said he told her when she finally picked him up after a frantic search.
Her son, misunderstanding bus instructions at the Boys and Girls Club, hopped on a bus to go home — and during the long ride, not knowing where to get off, fell asleep.
Slater said the Durham School Services bus driver should have checked the bus before parking it at the bus garage and leaving.
Instead, Denterrio spent nearly two hours inside a hot, parked bus, and Slater spent that time on the phone with everyone involved, trying to find him.
“They left him on the bus and went home,” Slater said. “It was about two hours in that metal, hot bus. This could have turned out so bad.”
Denterrio is physically OK, Slater said, but mentally is afraid of hopping on the bus to attend his summer program at Cunningham Elementary School.
“He woke up finding himself alone (and) scared,” his grandmother, Debra Slater, wrote in a message to The Courier. “He said he prayed — he said he thought he would never see his family again. ... We are thanking God it turned out that my grandson is safe and back with his family.”
The incident is the second dangerous incident in as many days in connection with Durham School Services bus transportation.
On Monday, another Waterloo woman told The Courier her daughter with special needs was dropped off mistakenly at home, then walked across several busy streets to Target a mile away, where she was finally located, unattended and playing with toys in the aisles.
In a statement provided by spokesperson Tara Thomas, Waterloo Community Schools took a stronger stance Wednesday than they had with the first incident, this time calling for “disciplinary action” if warranted.
“Waterloo Schools is investigating the incident and working with Durham School Services to make sure disciplinary action is taken if necessary to address potential violations, prevent any more issues and keep the safety of our students the primary focus,” the statement read.
Durham spokesperson Ed Flavin confirmed the incident and said the driver of that bus was fired. He noted in an email to The Courier that the company’s existing policies should have prevented Tuesday’s situation.
“The incident in which the student was not dropped at his house and returned to the bus lot is a breach of our policy and the driver was terminated,” Flavin wrote. “As a result of this incident, today we sent a senior safety and operations team to the bus yard to assess how this happened and retrain drivers on proper drop-off protocol.”
Slater said training was necessary.
“I just want to make sure people are responsible for their actions, that they’re aware of the kids,” she said. “What if a kid dies because they’re locked in a big metal bus, basically an oven?”
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Denterrio had been going to the summer school program since June 17 at Cunningham, where he attended kindergarten this year, Slater said. Once the program is done at noon, he’s shuttled by bus to the Boys and Girls Club until Slater picks him up.
Normally, Slater said, she gets to the Boys and Girls Club around 2 or 3 p.m. to pick up her son. On Tuesday, she called to say she’d instead pick him up at 4:45 p.m., and staff there said Denterrio had gotten on a bus.
“I asked, ‘Where are they taking him?’ and they said, ‘Home.’ I said, ‘OK,’ so I go straight home,” she said.
Unsure of how long the bus route would take, she waited for a while until she began worrying and called Boys and Girls Club back. Staff there called the bus garage and discovered the route was completed.
Slater called the bus garage herself and said she couldn’t find her son. She said she was told all the bus routes were done and the drivers had gone home.
“That’s when I started panicking,” Slater said.
She got back on the phone with Boys and Girls Club, who confirmed from their video surveillance that Denterrio had gotten on the bus. Slater phoned Durham again, pleading, and the woman on the other end of the line agreed to check the buses.
“In 15 minutes she came back and she was out of breath, ‘I found him, I found him,’” Slater said.
Slater rushed to the bus garage and said she was told Denterrio had been found sleeping on the bus but was “fine.” But Denterrio had a different story.
“I get my son in the car and he said, ‘Thank God — they left me on the bus,’” Slater said.
She said Denterrio told her he heard an announcement about lining up to get on a bus for Cunningham students and assumed that meant him, too — and nobody told him differently when he got in line or got on the bus.
“He went and lined up because, in his mind, he rode the bus to Boys and Girls Club from Cunningham,” she said. “He didn’t separate that — he’s too little.”
But the more dangerous part, Slater said, is that the driver didn’t check the bus before shutting it off and leaving her son behind.
“He just keeps talking about it, so I know he was traumatized. ‘You should have seen all that sweat on my face’ — he’s talking about it over and over again,” she said. “That’s the only thing that makes me even madder.”
Slater said Waterloo Schools administrators have called her to apologize for the situation, but said she no longer trusts Durham and wants accountability for what happened to her, as well as the other Waterloo mother whose daughter was dropped off mistakenly.
“I feel like the Durham bus place needs to train their people more thoroughly, not even just looking on the bus after, but making sure kids are going where they’re supposed to go,” she said.