LONG BEACH — Kindergartner Lukas Talancon-Williams had worried about a lot of “what-ifs” by the time the smudged glass doors of the school bus swung open for him to climb on board. But, unlike many first-timer riders, the five-year-old’s confusing trip home from Long Beach Elementary on Thursday afternoon did more to confirm his fears than alleviate them.
Lukas and his friend Lillian “Lilly” Hayes, also 5, were dropped off more than a mile away from where his mother was waiting to pick them up.
“It’s every parent’s worst nightmare,” Tia Williams said. “Thinking about the possibilities of what could have happened makes me sick.”
The two kindergartners held hands as they walked along Pacific highway, trying to find their way home.
Williams said she talked to their teacher and notified staff in the school office to make sure everyone knew where they were supposed to go after class. They both had notes to give the bus driver.
Lukas wanted to try taking the bus “like the big kids,” Williams said. Because he was wary about his first trip, she arranged to have Lilly go with him. She’s been riding the bus since the school year started.
Lessons to learn
The two five-year-olds didn’t go unnoticed for long after they got off the bus. A few people called authorities to report that they looked like they might be lost, Ocean Beach School District Transportation Director Kyle Fiala said.
He acknowledged the bus driver made a mistake when she let them get off at Culbertson Park. A classmate’s mother was apparently waiting for her kindergartner near the tennis court. When Lukas and Lilly recognized her, the driver assumed she was there to pick up them up too.
Fiala said the note Lukas brought on board told the driver to take him home, but it didn’t include an address. Lilly’s note, he said, indicated she was to go with home with Lukas. It listed her regular stop, not Washington Avenue and Pioneer Road, where they were supposed be dropped off on Thursday, Fiala said.
The driver started the job earlier this month.
“She’s very upset with herself that this happened on her watch,” Fiala said. “We don’t take these things lightly. It’s definitely a huge, huge learning experience.”
The district is investigating and might make policy changes to help keep students safe, based on what officials learn, he said. The driver could face disciplinary action.
After the kindergartners got off the bus at the wrong stop, Lilly’s mother, Brandy Hayes, said they walked along the highway and crossed it twice before a friend of hers stopped them behind Chen’s Restaurant to ask why they were alone.
“God knows where they could have ended up if she hadn’t stepped in,” Hayes said.
But, because Lukas didn’t know her friend, he refused get in her car. So she waited with him and Lilly until Hayes came to pick them up.
“He’s gotten a million praises because even in that situation, he knew ‘stranger danger,’” Williams said.
She got worried and called the school when Lukas and Lilly didn’t show up as expected around 3 p.m. She was told they were on a bus that was running late, so she stayed at the stop near her home. After waiting for about 20 minutes, Williams was relieved to hear they were safe with Hayes.
The two mothers said they immediately went to the school to find out how their kindergartners ended up on their own, but didn’t get much of an explanation from officials who were still piecing together what had happened. Hayes and Williams were back at the school with their questions early Monday morning, which marked the start of Gov. Jay Inslee’s “School Bus Safety Week.”
Ocean Beach Superintendent Jenny Risner told the Observer she “was very, very concerned” after hearing on Monday what had happened to Lukas and Lilly.
Hayes and Williams said they plan to hold the district accountable to stop similar mistakes from putting students in danger again.
“I don’t want this to get swept under the rug,” Williams said. “I’m afraid that’s what’s going to happen.”
Two kindergartners left by LB park by mistake