The family of a 14-year-old girl, who stepped out of a moving school bus through a rear emergency exit to her death, has reached a $2 million settlement in their lawsuit against the city’s school district and other parties.
Onynx Williams’ family sued the Paterson Public Schools, K&M Transportation, and the Bergen County Special Services School District following the girl’s death in Jan. 2013. The district in early December agreed to pay $700,000 ($350,000 is being covered by its insurance policy with Travelers) while the bus company is paying $1.3 million through its carrier.
Additionally, the Bergen County Special Services School District offered $200,000 judgment against itself to settle all claims in the lawsuit, according to a Dec. 8, 2017 letter from its attorneys. This offer was reportedly rejected by the family.
The settlement was reached between the parties in a Nov. 30, 2017 mediation session, according to court filings. School board members have received details of the settlement in a closed-door meeting late last year.
A previous report in the Paterson Times erroneously stated the school board had yet to approve the agreement. School officials approved the settlement in a Dec. 6, 2017 meeting. A previous report also erroneously stated the total amount of settlement was $1.4 million.
Williams was placed at the Bergen County school’s Venture Program due to her “escalating history of behavior difficulties” at School 18, 7, and 8, according to court documents. She was categorized as “emotionally disturbed.” She began attending the Bergen County program on Feb. 27, 2012, following a 10-day psychiatric hospitalization at St. Clare’s Hospital in Denville, according to court documents.
On Jan. 2, 2013, Williams was being transported from the Hackensack school to her house in a 2010 Chevy minibus. Three other students were in the same bus. One of those students from Lyndhurst was put on the bus despite prohibition the transportation firm, contracted by the Paterson school district, could not mix students from other districts, according to court filings.
As the bus driver, Porfirio Farfun, drove south on Riverside Avenue in Rutherford to drop off the unauthorized non-district student, Williams became agitated by the wait and delay. She “stood up, moved to the rear of the minibus, opened the emergency door and exited the vehicle while it was in motion, sustaining fatal injuries,” according to court filings.
Williams died three days later on Jan. 5, 2013.
It later emerged, the bus company was required to have two aides, but on that day, it only had one, Aida Youssef, on the bus, according to court filings.
Williams parents, Bobbie Jean White and Eugene Williams, filed the lawsuit seeking damages soon after the incident.
The incident led to sweeping reforms in the district’s transportation department. The district put in charge former police captain and head of security James Smith.
Smith put in place a number of reforms that included closer monitoring of the school buses. “Now we have inspections 2 and 3 times a week,” said Smith. He also ensures the bus companies are strictly adhering to specifications in their agreements with the district.
This report was revised and re-reported on Jan. 18, 2018.