Olympia School District to pay $1.2 million to settle claims over bus driver who molested kindergarteners

Staff writerJanuary 14, 2014 

The Olympia School District's insurer has tentatively agreed to pay $1.2 million to a former Garfield Elementary School kindergartener who was molested by a former Olympia school bus driver in 2010.

In 2011, a Thurston County Superior Court judge sentenced former Olympia school bus driver Gary Schafer, now 35, to 14 1/2 years to life in prison for sexually assaulting three girls on Olympia school buses, including the then-5-year-old girl whose civil case was settled on Tuesday.

Shafer's two other minor victims also have won cash awards as a result of their civil lawsuits. In September 2013, the school district's insurer agreed to pay a then 6-year-old victim $750,000 to settle her lawsuit.

And, in late September 2012, a jury ordered the Olympia school district to pay a third victim $1.4 million after it found the district was negligent and failed to properly supervise Shafer. The jury awarded the girl $1.4 million at the conclusion of a jury trial.

During that sole civil trial involving one of Shafer's victims, an attorney for the school district told the jury that Shafer acted as a "helper" to learn the route home from Centennial Elementary School when the molestation of the then-kindergarten aged girl occurred.

At the conclusion of the civil trial, juror Nora Mena said she and other jurors heard evidence that Shafer was "just riding around on buses," on his own time, unpaid, with no one above him keeping track of how often or why he was doing so.

"The one thing we all, all 12 of us agreed to, was that the district's supervision of Gary was inadequate," Mena said in 2012.

The school district has admitted liability in the case that resulted in Tuesday's tentative $1.2 million settlement for the former Garfield kindergartener, who is now 8, court papers state.

Tacoma attorney Darrell Cochran, who represented all three of the victims Shafer was convicted of molesting, wrote in an emailed statement to The Olympian that the $1.2 million award will help the former kindergartener recover from her abuse.

"The family has a good opportunity to help their daughter through dark times that are on her horizon thanks to Shafer's abuse," Cochran wrote. "He abused a position of trust and power on the school bus in the first days of her school career and that will haunt her through the rest of her life. We can use the settlement to give her the best help possible to prepare her to deal with those thoughts."

On Tuesday, Olympia School District spokeswoman Rebecca Japhet confirmed the tentative $1.2 million settlement for the former Garfield Elementary kindergartener.

"The district and its attorneys have worked in good faith with this family, and today reached a tentative agreement that awaits final approval," Japhet wrote in an email to The Olympian. "In addition, the district has put measures in place to enhance student and staff safety on our buses, including the installation of cameras on many of our routes and additional staff training."

Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5445 jpawloski@theolympian.com

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