In tearful hearing, former Orange Unified school bus driver offers remorse for Anaheim Hills crash with 11 children on board

by in News

A former school bus driver who passed out and crashed up an embankment and into a tree while driving 11 children home from school nearly five years ago apologized for his actions Friday, April 26, in an emotional hearing in which some parents of the children came face to face with him.

Through long emotional pauses, Gerald Douglas Rupple, 29, spoke of his remorse for the 2014 accident and the impact it’s had on the children and their families.

“I know the kids’ lives won’t be 100 percent whole again because of my actions and I just want to say I’m sorry,” he said inside an Orange County Superior Court room.

He was scheduled to be sentenced Friday, but it was delayed so Judge Sheila Hanson could review some 100 pages of character references written on behalf of Rupple, who pleaded guilty in June 2018 to 11 felony counts of child abuse and endangerment and one felony count of perjury.

His sentencing was postponed to June 7 at the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana.

Rupple was driving the children home from El Rancho Charter Middle School on April 24, 2014, when he passed out behind the wheel. The bus veered onto an embankment off of Nohl Ranch Road and traveled along the hillside before it struck a eucalyptus tree and a lamppost, coming to rest against a tree, which kept it from rolling down the embankment.

Four children suffered major injuries and Rupple had to be rescued, unconscious, through the bus windshield.

Five of the children were rushed to nearby hospitals and some indicated Rupple hadn’t seemed like himself that day.

In 2017, the Orange Unified School District reached a $10 million settlement with the families of five of the children injured in the crash.

Investigators alleged Rupple had lied to Orange Unified School District officials about his medical condition. Rupple suffers from pulmonary hypertension, a form of high blood pressure that impacts the heart and lungs. The condition can sometimes cause dizziness, seizures or blackouts.

Rupple wore a medical mask covering his nose and mouth at Friday’s hearing. He had since moved to Arizona and had a double-lung transplant.

Two parents of children on the bus spoke at Friday’s hearing. Rupple’s sister and a former employer spoke on his behalf.

Keri Pintches’ son was one of the children on the bus when it crashed. She said Rupple was very highly respected and that he and his father, also a bus driver for the district, were well-liked among the children.

But she also said Rupple knew of his condition and chose to ignore it.

Her son still has anxiety with public transportation and won’t drive down the street where the crash occurred, Pintches said.

“The parents trusted you to transport their precious cargo,” she said. “(The kids) loved you, they trusted you. Those kids’ lives were changed forever.”

Rupple appeared to wipe away tears as parents spoke.

His older sister, Shaleen Ruiz, said her brother made “a really big mistake that has affected our family.”

“We’re so grateful everyone survived and we sincerely apologize to the families for the children that were hurt,” she said through tears. “The greatest punishment for him is knowing he hurt those children.”