School bus driver who slammed on brakes to 'teach kids a lesson' facing 30 child abuse charges

ByChelsea Brentzel, KRDO
Thursday, April 20, 2023
School bus driver who slammed on brakes facing 30 child abuse charges
Video from inside the bus shows at least 30 Castle Rock Elementary students' faces hitting the seats in front of them from the brake check.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- A Colorado school bus driver faces 30 child abuse charges after intentionally slamming on the brakes to "teach the kids a lesson."

Video from inside the bus, obtained by ABC affiliate KRDO, shows at least 30 Castle Rock Elementary students' faces hitting the seats in front of them from the brake check.

The incident occurred on March 1, 2023, when the Castle Rock Elementary School students were riding the bus home.

According to the report, the bus driver, 61-year-old Brian Fitzgerald, told Douglas County School District officials he was sorry for his actions. However, he did defend his actions. He claimed he was trying to "educate" and "control the students" riding the bus.

Below is a transcript of the video above:

Driver: "You guys want to see how dangerous that is?"

Children: "Ow! Oh my god"

Driver: "Did you get that? That's why you need to be in your seat. Turn around and sit down properly." "If you guys can't do that you will get written up. Do you get that?

Children: "Why did he do that? Are you okay?"

The students, ranging from kindergarten to 6th grade, were confused and startled by the jolt. This led to one of the students calling her parents and reporting the incident.

"Um, the bus driver hit the brakes, and somebody got hurt so badly and is like bleeding on the cheek. We tell the bus driver, but he no care," she told her parents.

When Fitzgerald dropped her off at the stop, she started crying. The driver closed the door and started to pull away before opening it back up to speak with the adult that picked the little girl up.

Below is a portion of that interaction:

Driver: "She okay? Is she alright?

Adult: Yeah. She was hurt though, might go easy on the brakes.

Driver: They were bouncing all over the place and I was coming to a stop and I hit the brakes hard because they were running all over the place.

During the driver's explanation, some of the students sitting in the back of the bus began disagreeing with what Fitzgerald was telling the parent about their behavior on the bus.

"I said they need to be in their seat," the driver explained to the parent. "I was coming to a stop and I hit the brakes hard because they weren't. They were not listening. So, I'm sorry if she got hurt."

That little girl was not the only Castle Rock Elementary Student who told their parents they were hurt in the brake check incident.

"My son came tearing the through the door that afternoon," Lauren Thomason said. "He sprinted all the way home. He was out of breath and red-faced and absolutely sobbing and shaking. He was terrified."

When Lauren helped her fourth-grade son calm down, he told her what happened on the bus that afternoon. She immediately called the Douglas County School District Transportation Department asking officials to pull the video.

"He had slammed his head into the seat back in front of him. Another buddy had slammed his head into the window. So his neck and his head were hurting," said Thomason.

She was especially concerned because her son was still recovering from a concussion a few weeks ago from slipping on ice.

"Scared to death that somebody hurt my kid? You know, I know not all the kids on the bus had a concussion, but instantly I'm like, okay, do we need to go to the E.R.? What's happening? Who is this person? This is not the regular bus driver," explained Thomason.

Fitzgerald, who was hired as a bus driver by Douglas County School District in October 2022, had just finished up class less than a week before and "was only half driving by himself," according to internal school records reviewed by 13 Investigates. He was "not experienced in dealing with difficult students", and in the days leading up to the incident, he had only been driving special education students - this was his first time driving a general education bus.

In the evening of the incident on the bus, Fitzgerald wrote a letter to supervisors expressing concerns about what he described as "a historical pattern of improper student management" on the bus he was driving that day.

"We trust they've all been vetted and are safe. And I hate that we can't believe that," Thomason said.

Now, the concerned mother is preparing for her son to testify if the criminal child abuse case against Fitzgerald goes to trial.

"If our voice or his voice could help keep another little kid safe, that it's his job, it's his responsibility as part of our community to do that," Thomason said.

A spokesperson for the Douglas County School District told 13 Investigates:

"Riding a bus to and from school should be a happy, enjoyable experience for students. The behavior and actions of this bus driver are completely unacceptable. We are so grateful to the parents and the principal who reported this incident, allowing us to take swift action and ensure this driver was never again allowed behind the wheel of a DCSD bus."

Fitzgerald repeatedly declined to interview or publicly comment with 13 Investigates about the bus brake check incident and the now criminal case against him.

He faces 30 misdemeanor counts of child abuse. One of the charges is child abuse with bodily injuries, which carries a maximum sentence of 364 days in jail. He is due for his first court appearance in May.