District faces fresh lawsuit over imprisoned bus driver

Staff writerApril 14, 2014 

Three sets of parents have sued the Olympia School District, alleging the district failed to properly investigate whether a former school bus driver might have molested their then kindergarten-age children.

The former school bus driver, Gary Shafer, was sentenced in 2011 to 131/2 years to life in prison for sexually assaulting three girls on Olympia school buses.

Shafer has not been accused criminally of molesting any of the three children named as plaintiffs in the new civil lawsuit.

The new lawsuit, filed Thursday in Thurston County Superior Court, alleges that the three plaintiffs also rode on Olympia school buses with Shafer, and that they also might have been victimized by him.

“This lawsuit aims to hold the Olympia School District accountable for failing in its most basic mission to protect children from harm, to be truthful and to be responsible when mistakes are made,” according to the lawsuit filed by Tacoma attorney Darrell Cochran.

Olympia School District spokeswoman Rebecca Japhet emailed a statement to The Olympian in reference to the new lawsuit.

“The district has worked closely with law enforcement to investigate leads concerning children who may have been harmed by this driver and will continue to do so any time new information becomes available,” Japhet wrote. “It is important to remember that what we are hearing here are only allegations, not facts. The district trains employees on their mandatory reporting requirements, and we take that portion of our work very seriously.”

In September 2013, OSD’s insurer agreed to pay the family of one of Shafer’s victims $750,000 to settle its lawsuit alleging that the district failed to properly supervise the former bus driver.

The victim was 6 at the time of the molestation.

In 2012, a Thurston County jury awarded the family of another of Shafer’s victims $1.4 million after finding at trial that OSD failed to properly supervise Shafer. That jury award has been appealed by a lawyer for the school district.

During the 2012 trial, an attorney for the school district said Shafer acted as a “helper” to learn the route home from Centennial Elementary School when the molestation occurred.

After the trial, juror Nora Mena said she heard evidence that Shafer was seemingly “just riding around on buses” on his own time, unpaid, with no one 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 after the 2012 jury trial.

Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5445 Twitter: @JeremyPawloski

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