A bus driver for a Texas charter school located near the U.S.-Mexico Border is in police custody after several young children came forward alleging he sexually abused them with his fingers.
Jose Luis Garza, 59, a bus driver for the IDEA North Mission campus, appeared before a Hidalgo County judge last Friday and, again, on Monday. He was arraigned on three counts of continuous sexual abuse of a young child.
This case began on April 20 when the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office opened an investigation after allegations surfaced that Garza inappropriately touched three female students, according to information released on Tuesday by the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office. They said a deputy met with an unidentified “complainant” who reported three girls made “outcries” of sexual touching.
During the investigation, the charter school placed Garza on administrative leave. They also met with the parents of potential victims. Then, sexual assault professionals with the Children’s Advocacy Center in Edinburg interviewed numerous students, according to the criminal complaint. Three of them — one five-year-old girl and two eight-year-old girls — told staff counselors that Garza touched them with his fingers inappropriately on multiple occasions while riding on the school bus from August 2017 to May 2018.
Specifically, The Monitor reported that Garza stands accused of sexually assaulting one of the eight-year-old girls with his fingers at least twice between January 2017 and May 2018. He purported fingered the other eight-year-old girl between February and May of this year; and he allegedly touched the five-year-old girl in a sexual way from August 2017 to May 2018. Reportedly, one such episode happened when one of the children walked down the bus aisle.
On April 23, the charter school fired Garza. IDEA Public Schools CEO Tom Torkelson told The Monitor: “As soon as we got enough information that clearly something happened and there was a lot of corroboration from one witness to another, we let authorities know.” He mentioned that, in addition to the sheriff’s office, the charter network reached out to the Mission Police Department and Child Protective Services regarding the investigation of this case.
On May 11, police arrested Garza and formally charged him on the three counts of continuous sexual abuse of a young child, which is a first degree felony. If convicted, Garza could face a sentence of up to life in prison. Jail records show that Hidalgo County Officials set his bail at a combined total of $320,000. Garza remains in the Hidalgo County Adult Detention Center.
This is an ongoing investigation. More charges may be forthcoming as the criminal complaint indicated there were six alleged victims ranging in ages from five to nine years old, noted The Monitor.
According to the school’s website, IDEA North Mission is a new campus in the Rio Grande Valley. It serves 1,027 students in pre-kindergarten through third grade and those in sixth through eighth grades. The IDEA Public Schools network says it enrolls more than 36,000 students in pre-K through grade 12 across 61 campuses in Texas. The charter school said Garza was one of nearly a dozen bus drivers.
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