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Driver enters plea in case of Fond du Lac child left on bus | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota

Published July 11, 2013, 12:00 AM

Driver enters plea in case of Fond du Lac child left on bus

A former Fond du Lac Head Start school bus driver entered a plea Wednesday to a charge of child endangerment involving a 3-year-old boy who was left alone on a locked bus for three hours with temperatures hovering at about zero.

By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal

A former Fond du Lac Head Start school bus driver entered a plea Wednesday to a charge of child endangerment involving a 3-year-old boy who was left alone on a locked bus for three hours with temperatures hovering at about zero.

Under the Alford plea, Thomas Mitchell Soderholm, 53, of Mahtowa admitted there was enough evidence for a jury to find him guilty, but he

didn’t admit to actually committing the crime. The punishment is the same as if he had pleaded guilty.

Soderholm was accused of leaving preschooler Ty Stiffarm on the bus Jan. 14 after dropping off children at the Fond du Lac Reservation’s Head Start program.

Although the oversight was apparently not intentional, Carlton County Attorney Thom Pertler said he pressed charges because “when you’re dealing with young children, there is a heightened responsibility to make sure things like that can’t happen.”

The crime is a gross misdemeanor punishable by a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $3,000 fine. Judge Dale Wolf issued a stay of adjudication for one year, on the condition that Soderholm commit no same or similar crimes, and fined him $200 for court costs. If Soderholm commits no same or similar crimes in the next year, Pertler said, the conviction won’t be entered on his permanent record.

According to the criminal complaint:

The boy was picked up at his home at about 6:55 a.m. Jan. 14. At about 11 a.m., a Fond du Lac Transportation employee was walking by the Head Start bus and noticed the boy waving and pounding on a bus window.

The criminal complaint states that the boy was seated in the first row behind the driver on the opposite side of the bus, where he should have been seen when the driver exited the bus.

The reservation’s transportation department policy is to have a bus monitor ensure that no children are left behind. Soderholm told investigators that the bus monitor told him the bus was empty.

The investigation revealed that the bus monitor has some cognitive disabilities that were known to the defendant. The bus monitor admitted to investigators that despite having a policy requiring him to check the bus he might not have done so on the date the boy was left on the bus.

Soderholm lost his job with the reservation, Fond du Lac Chairwoman Karen Diver told the Duluth News Tribune after the incident.

Soderholm had no previous criminal record.

via Driver enters plea in case of Fond du Lac child left on bus | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota.

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