Amanda Davila, a 27-year-old school bus monitor, was sitting toward the front of her bus on Monday morning, focused on her cellphone and wearing her earbuds. Several rows back was one of the children she was supposed to keep an eye on: a disabled 6-year-old girl in a wheelchair who was unable to speak, on her way to a summertime education program in New Jersey.
The driver of the bus hit a bumpy patch of road, and the girl, Fajr Williams, slid down in her chair. And, unbeknownst to Ms. Davila, the strap that was supposed to secure the child in her seat ended up tight against her throat, ultimately suffocating her, authorities said.
Ms. Davila was arrested on Wednesday. On Thursday, the Somerset County prosecutor, John P. McDonald, announced that she had been charged with second-degree manslaughter and second-degree endangering the welfare of a child. Prosecutors said Ms. Davila was “utilizing a cellular telephone while wearing earbud headphone devices in both ears.”
Days later, the little girl’s mother was still trying to come to terms with her death.
“I still feel like it’s unreal,” Najmah Nash, 38, said. “Sometimes I feel that I’m OK and functioning, and then other times I just feel like I can barely hold on.”
Fajr, Ms. Nash’s daughter, had been on her way to school in Franklin Township, about 45 minutes from New York City, officials said. Ms. Davila had secured her wheelchair toward the back of the bus and then took a seat near the front. On a rough portion of the road, the girl began to struggle.
Shortly after 9 a.m., Ms. Nash said, she received a call “stating that my baby was unresponsive” and that emergency responders were performing CPR on Fajr at Claremont Elementary School, about 15 minutes away from the family’s home.
The girl was then rushed to the intensive care unit of a hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
Ms. Nash said that Fajr had Emanuel syndrome, a chromosomal disorder that disrupts development. She was nonverbal and could not walk. Infants with the disease fail to gain weight or grow at the expected rate, and many who have the syndrome have “severe to profound” intellectual disabilities, according to the National Library of Medicine.
Although Fajr could not speak, she was able to “make baby coos and happy sounds,” Ms. Nash said. She was full of life and joy.
“Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with this student’s family and friends,” Dr. John Ravally, the superintendent of the Franklin Township Public Schools, said in a letter sent on Thursday to the school community notifying them of the death, and the charges.
“Obviously the community is saddened by this recent tragedy,” Vanessa Miranda, a spokeswoman for the Franklin Township Board of Education, said in an email.
Officials said that Ms. Davila violated “policies and procedures” while using her phone with her earbuds in both ears. She is in custody at Somerset County Jail pending a detention hearing.
Montauk Transit, which has a transportation contract with the Franklin Township Board of Education, directed inquiries to Orange County Transit, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ms. Nash, who works in the quality assurance department of Motivcare, a company that brokers nonemergency medical transportation, said that she was “devastated” to learn that the bus monitor had been on her phone, and had her earbuds in.
“It was very hurtful, Ms. Nash said. “It was very distasteful.”
She wants to know the ratio of aides to children, and the protocol for making sure that a wheelchair is secure before the bus pulls off.
Ms. Nash urged the Board of Education to thoroughly vet the transportation companies which they contract with “to ensure that they’re going to take care of our children.”
“There’s only so much that parents can do,” she said.
Kirsten Noyes contributed research.