A school bus driver who threatened one of his passengers — a 9-year-old boy with Down syndrome — has pleaded guilty to felony child abuse.
Brian Duchow, 29, faces a maximum penalty of up to six years in prison and a $10,000 fine when he is sentenced in July. He was accused of shouting at and threatening Jacob Mutulo for alleged misbehavior on his bus. He also admitted slapping Jacob, according to a criminal complaint.
Duchow’s abusive behavior came to light after Jacob’s parents, Vince and Rosemary, placed a voice-activated tape recorder in his backpack before he boarded the bus on the morning of April 29, 2003.
They were concerned because Jacob was accused of constantly misbehaving. “I said, ‘We’ve got to find out what Jacob is doing on this bus that is so bad that he’s getting written up all the time,’” said Vince Mutulo. What he heard on the tape disturbed him: “We got 45 minutes or so of him getting hell.”
Until they had investigated the situation, the Mutulos had asked their son to apologize to Duchow for his behavior after he was written up. “Jacob would walk up to the bus driver, give him a hug and say he was sorry,” Vince Mutulo said.
After Duchow entered his guilty plea, Rosemary Mutulo said she was relieved. “There was always a certainty in our minds that he was guilty,” she told the Duluth News Tribune. “We wanted to hear him say that he was guilty.”
Jacob’s mother said her son was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after the incident and continues to undergo counseling by a child psychologist. She said Duchow should be forced to serve some jail time for his crime, but prosecutors have recommended only probation.
In an interview last year with SCHOOL BUS FLEET, Vince Mutulo said he believed this type of abuse of special-needs children on school buses is a nationwide problem and should be examined more closely. “We think there needs to be a better way of checking backgrounds,” he said. “Wherever the person came from, they just do the check for Wisconsin, not a complete background check. That’s one of the things we’re going to try to change.”
Mutulo also advocated the installation of video surveillance cameras on special-needs buses. “We want cameras on the buses so the silent voices these kids have can be heard with impartial cameras,” he said.