Attorney: Child Was Abused Over 200 Times
A First Student bus driver is facing multiple criminal charges and will appear alongside his attorneys in a Franklin County courtroom on Wednesday, March 3.
Terry Rice, 64, of St. Clair, has been charged with eight counts of kidnapping, a misdemeanor and a fourth-degree assault, also a misdemeanor. Each of the kidnapping charges represent each month that the alleged incidents occurred, according to documents filed by the Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney’s office.
In Warren County, Rice also has been charged with child abuse, a Class D felony.
During the time of the alleged crimes, Rice was a driver for First Student, an international bus company that contracts with hundreds of public and state school districts to provide busing for children to and from school. The company has 42,500 school buses in its fleet.
Bus company officials said in 2019 that Rice had been placed on administrative leave, but is unclear if he remains employed by the bus company.
The charges stem from allegations that Rice repeatedly abused one of the children on his bus, according to court records filed by the Union Police Department. The child is nonverbal and was unable to alert educators or his parents to the abuse.
In a statement, a bus aide told officials at Autumn Hill, a state-funded school in Union for children with disabilities, that she personally witnessed Rice use “homemade restraints” on the child. She also provided photos to school officials that showed the child restrained or “hog-tied,” according to court documents.
Due to the nature of the crimes alleged and the age of the alleged victim, the name of the child is not being released by The Missourian or court officials.
In June 2019, the restraints were placed around the child’s waist and torso, pinning the child’s arms to his sides, according to the bus aide’s statement. The bus aide said Rice had additional restraints that were sometimes used on the child’s hands.
The bus aide said she also witnessed Rice “pull (the child’s) sleeves down to act as a buffer between his skin and the straps in hopes that the restraints would not leave more marks.”
Rice allegedly told the bus aide, who was only on her second day on the bus route, to lie to the child’s parents should she ever be questioned about the marks. On the aide’s first day, she said Rice “told me in relative detail about how he made the restraints himself from spare seat belt parts and plastic buckles. There was a restraint for his feet, one for his torso, and two sets of individual arm straps to keep his arms close to the seat.”
Rice reportedly encouraged her to say the marks were from his pre-approved safety harness, which acts as a seat belt for the child.
The bus aide said she also witnessed Rice deviate from the school’s bus route in order to remove or apply the harnesses on the child.
“I could see that even in the short amount of time, the restraints had left red marks on (the child’s arms),” the bus aide wrote in her statement.
According to the Union Police Department, its investigation into Rice began in June 2019 after receiving a call from the child’s mother, who said she was contacted by an Autumn Hill staff member reporting that her child had been physically restrained for the 18-mile twice-a-day roundtrip from the family’s home in rural Warren County to the school’s campus.
Teachers reportedly told the child’s parents that they also had reported “red marks on his arms that could not be explained.” However, the reports from four staff members, including the child’s classroom teacher and the school nurse, were only filed on the same date that the bus aide filed her written statement in June 2019, according to the family’s attorney, Steven Kuenzel Jr.
He is one of the attorneys representing the family in a civil lawsuit where it is alleged the child was abused over 200 times while riding the bus from Nov. 2018 to June 2019. No court dates have been scheduled for the civil case.
According to the court records, the family is alleging that Rice’s restraints broke the child’s arm in April 2019 and that Rice continued to restrain the child despite the broken arm. Medical records will reportedly show that the child suffered from a “nondisplaced metaphyseal buckle fracture,” according to Kuenzel.
Named in the lawsuit are First Student, Rice and Ruth E. Cunningham, 65, of Union, who worked as the bus aide during the school year and allegedly did not report the abuse and actively participated with Rice’s attempts to cover up his abuse of the child.
Bus company officials told Union police that Cunningham “never reported any incidents.”
Cunningham reportedly told police that “she did not agree with (Rice) doing this but it is what he does.” She said Rice did this to the child every day, but that “she never said anything to anyone because she was the bus monitor and Terry is the bus driver.”
The bus was not equipped with a functioning video camera, according to Kuenzel.