Video of school bus driver shows 'bizarre' behavior, touching, witnesses testify
Ravell Call, Deseret News
WEST JORDAN — Former Canyons School District bus driver John Martin Carrell spent more time unbuckling the seat belt of one 5-year-old girl than he did with other children on his route.
Surveillance video retrieved from Carrell's bus (No. 250) also shows the same young girl spending several minutes standing between the legs of the 61-year-old bus driver, prior to her teacher meeting the bus each morning from February to April.
Carrell can also be seen touching the girl's hair, even though district policy forbids any physical interactions with students, district human resource director Steve Dimond testified Wednesday during a preliminary hearing for Carrell in 3rd District Court.
Dimond said district employees are allowed to high-five or fist-bump with students, but never touch, hug or allow lap-sitting.
"All employees are role models and their behavior is encouraged to be professional and appropriate," he said. "Professional behavior is respectful, courteous and kind. If you are going to touch, it should be for the safety and well-being of the student."
Hours of video were played during the hearing as evidence in the case against Carrell, who is charged with 23 first-degree felony counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child involving one girl and 11 counts, one of them attempted, involving another 5-year-old girl on a different route.
District officials were notified of potential allegations against Carrell and pulled him from his regular route mid-day on April 24. The girls' parents had contacted the district.
Dimond said Carrell showed "a flat effect" when presented with the allegations. In a statement also admitted as evidence, Dimond said Carrell wrote, "I have never touched any student in an inappropriate manner."
Dimond said Carrell told him he was "a grandpa," but following Carrell's brief demonstration of what happened on the bus, Dimond called the driver's behavior "bizarre."
"He said he held their hands. I couldn't understand why he'd hold hands in that way," Dimond said.
Dimond and Carrell's supervisor, Lorraine Miles, both told the court that the district has not received any complaints about behavior occurring on any bus routes and they haven't had any reason to review surveillance tapes that are kept on board the buses in locked containers until now.
Another parent informed the district of concerns with his daughter acting out after he learned of the initial charges against Carrell. A case involving his daughter was then investigated.
Bus No. 250 has four cameras, Miles, the district's special education bus route coordinator, said. She said the cameras begin recording when the engine is turned on and stay running for 15 minutes after the engine is shut off.
At least once during the recorded routes, Carrell can be seen staring directly into the camera at the front of the bus.
There were four children on Carrell's morning bus route to the school — two boys and two girls — including one of the victims. All of the children are between the ages of 3 and 5 and attend Altara Elementary.
The children are belted in their seats on the bus using a booster-type restraining seat with a five-point harness system that fastens between their legs. Miles said some drivers have expressed discomfort with the seats, specifically because of the district's no-touching policy.
Sandy police detective Andrea Hansen told the court that teachers of the alleged victims told her that one of the girls requires or seeks attention in the form of hugs; and the other, who is raised by her father, "deals better with men."
The court will reconvene Thursday at 10 a.m. to hear arguments in defense of Carrell.
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