SALT LAKE CITY — A former school bus driver for the Canyons School District was charged Thursday with 23 counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child.
For months, John Martin Carrell, 61, of Draper, sexually abused a 5-year-old girl with special needs whom he drove to and from school, police say. She was enrolled in a special education program at Altara Elementary School, 800 E. 11000 South.
The Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office believes all of the abuse happened after Carrell would pull into the school parking lot and stop the bus and before teachers came on to retrieve the children.
"What he would do, it's alleged, that he would make contact with her, he would remove the buckles on the other kids. It would take a very short period of time — three seconds. And then he would spend 20 to 30 seconds or more with this one other girl and what looked like he would block out of view him touching her," said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill.
On April 22, the young girl — who rode on Carrell's bus two days a week — told her father that she would sit in the bus driver's seat while the vehicle was stopped and Carrell would inappropriately rub her, according to charging documents.
"She tried to talk to my husband about the situation on the bus. At first, he was really confused," the girl's mother told the Deseret News last week before the details of the alleged abuse had come out.
Sandy police were contacted and detectives went through three months of surveillance video from the bus recorded primarily from two cameras. No other adults were on the bus at the time of the alleged abuse.
Two boys and another girl, all children with special needs, also rode the bus with the victim. All 23 counts of abuse filed Thursday were alleged to have happened to the one girl.
Each of the charges is a first-degree felony and each count carries a potential maximum prison sentence of 15 years to life.
The charging documents describe disturbing details of the alleged abuse and how the driver appeared to be doing it for gratification.
The earliest incident of abuse was recorded on Feb. 20. In a video, Carrell is seen taking extra time undoing the young girl's seat belt and tries to block the view of the other children, according to the charges. Later, the girl is heard saying on the video, "You've been pulling my pants."
Similar incidents were recorded in the school parking lot on March 4, March 11, March 13, March 20, March 25, March 27, April 1, April 3, April 8, April 10 and April 22.
Gill said his office could have likely filed more even more criminal charges. Asked whether there could be additional victims, Gill said the investigation is ongoing.
"There's continued investigation being done. If appropriate and sufficient evidence is provided, then we will address those issues," he said.
As the charges were being filed, Sandy police went to Carrell's Draper house to keep surveillance on him. After he left his house and got into his car to drive, police pulled him over and arrested him without incident about 2 p.m., said Sandy Police Sgt. Jon Arnold.
Gill noted that because these were "very serious allegations," bail was set at $3 million.
After it was revealed that Carrell was under investigation by Sandy police, concerned parents in Draper — where he also had a bus route — called for an investigation. Draper police said as of Monday, they had not found any evidence of abuse in their jurisdiction.
The girl's mother, while she does not blame the school district for what happened, said she believes school buses should be required to have an extra adult on board in addition to the driver.
"We feel we have to work hard to change procedures for the school," she said. "We have to work as a team to get past this problem. Today it was my child, but I don't know what could happen tomorrow. I don't want there to be other victims. I would rather we prevent this."
Canyons School District spokeswoman Jennifer Toomer-Cook said "all laws and policies" were followed when Carrell was hired, including a criminal background check. Utah state court records show that, besides minor traffic citations, Carrell has no prior criminal history.
Asked if the bus' surveillance video from February, March and April was reviewed by the school district before the parents reported allegations of abuse in late April, Toomer-Cook said, "I don't have that information."
She said the cameras are in all buses "in order to keep our kids safe. And it's my understanding that was able to assist in this investigation greatly and for that we're grateful."