PASCAGOULA, Miss. (AP) — A former Mississippi school bus driver has been sentenced to 30 years in prison for repeatedly sexually abusing an 8-year-old passenger.
Sergio Sandoval, 69, was sentenced Wednesday on charges including sexual battery and touching a child for lustful purposes, according to news outlets.
The former Ocean Springs driver was accused of molesting a second-grader when she rode his bus in 2014. The girl testified she was molested for 23 straight days by Sandoval, who would then send her back to her seat with candy, according to The Sun Herald.
He would drive the bus filled with elementary students with one hand and touch her with the other, she said. Sandoval named her a bus monitor and allowed her to break the policy that required her to remain seated when the bus was moving, something witness accounts support.
The allowances made her feel special, she said. But one day he gave her an outstanding achievement award that she felt she didn’t deserve, so she told her father what happened.
District Attorney Angel Myers McIlrath told the court this was one of the most brazen crimes he’s ever seen.
“When he got on that bus every day, that was his playground,” District Attorney Angel Myers McIlrath said.
This was Sandoval’s second trial in the case. His first trial in 2017 ended in a mistrial after he fainted and was hospitalized. He underwent mental evaluation and tried to fake a mental illness, according to doctor testimony.
His lawyer, Jim Davis, argued that Sandoval doesn’t remember his eight years as a district bus driver, attributing the amnesia to trauma from being in a Chilean internment camp in the 1970s. Though the veracity of the camp claim is unclear, a doctor testified that such a trauma likely wouldn’t affect Sandoval’s memories from his time as a Mississippi bus driver.
He was later determined to be fit for a retrial.
Sandoval maintained his innocence but declined to testify in his defense, per conversations with his wife. Sandoval’s wife and two daughters asked the court for mercy, citing his lack of criminal record.
The pleas didn’t stir Judge Kathy King Jackson, who said Sandoval had brought all this on himself.
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