A one-day court trial has been scheduled for a First Student bus driver accused of abusing a student on his bus, according to electronic court records.
Terry Rice, 64, of St. Clair, has been charged with eight counts of kidnapping and one count of fourth-degree assault, both misdemeanors, in Franklin County. Each of the kidnapping charges represent one month that the alleged incidents occurred, according to court documents. He will stand trial June 29.
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 public and state school districts to provide busing to and from school. Company officials said in 2019 that Rice had been placed on administrative leave, but it is unclear if he remains employed by the bus company.
The charges in both counties 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. They 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.
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 aide’s statement. The aide said Rice had additional restraints that were sometimes used on the child’s hands.
The 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 aide, who was 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,” according to the statement. Rice reportedly encouraged her to say the marks were from his preapproved safety harness, which acts as a seat belt.
The aide said she also witnessed Rice deviate from the school’s bus route 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),” she wrote in a 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 an Autumn Hill staff member told her that her child had been physically restrained for the 18-mile twice-a-day round trip from the family’s home in rural Warren County to the school.
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 were filed the same date that the bus aide filed her written statement in June 2019, according to the family’s attorney, Steve Kuenzel Jr.
He is one of the attorneys representing the family in a civil lawsuit alleging the child was abused over 200 times while riding the bus from November 2018 to June 2019. A jury trial has been scheduled for Oct. 3, 2022, in the civil case.
According to court records, the family alleges that Rice’s restraints broke the child’s arm in April 2019 and that Rice continued to restrain the child despite the broken arm.
Also named in the lawsuit are First Student, Rice and Ruth E. Cunningham, of Union, who worked as the bus aide and allegedly did not report and participated with Rice’s attempts to cover up the abuse.
Bus officials told the Union police that Cunningham “never reported any incidents.”
Cunningham reportedly told police that 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.