Carolyn Young was choked up yesterday as she recounted over the phone what had happened moments earlier.
A RIPTA bus driver had come to her front door. She recognized him as one of the regulars on a RIDE van that daily picked up her 61-year-old brother, Tom Fulmer.
The driver was not the one who picked up Tom a week ago Monday, but he was there to say he was sorry for what had happened. He knows Tom, and Young said he was overcome with emotion as he expressed his apology. Young was touched. If there is a silver lining to the nightmare her brother went through, this was it.
Tom is severely retarded. He is a passive man who smiles a lot, but doesn’t initiate action on his own. He is a client at the Trudeau Center and attends a program at their Commonwealth Avenue facility.
On June 17, the RIDE van picked up Tom at 7:30 a.m. to be driven to Trudeau. But when the van arrived at Trudeau, Tom didn’t get off the van and the driver didn’t notice that. The van had problems with its air conditioning and the driver dropped it off at a RIPTA parking lot. He didn’t notice Tom then, as well. It wasn’t until 4:30 that afternoon that a mechanic discovered Tom still sitting in the van, soaked with sweat and urine. He was rushed to Rhode Island Hospital and his sister was notified.
Young was appalled that the hospital did not have her brother’s identity, even though he was carrying a lunchbox with his name, and that they had not changed his soaked clothes. She also found it incomprehensible that the van driver was not aware Tom had been left in the vehicle. He was one of only eight transported in the van. It wasn’t like he was one of scores of people.
Rightfully, Young was outraged and especially thankful that the day was not as hot as it has been this week. Had that been the case, she believes her brother may not have survived.
But Young is impressed with how RIPTA and Trudeau have responded. Representatives of both agencies immediately met to develop safeguards against a similar situation in the future. RIPTA issued her an apology and very publicly acknowledged they had “screwed up.” Since then, Trudeau has been picking up Tom and taking him to school. As of yesterday, he had not resumed taking the RIPTA van.
If there was any question that RIPTA and Trudeau’s actions were less than sincere and more a means of placating a party that had been wronged, the action taken by that RIPTA driver yesterday has answered it, at least for us and Caroline Young.
“We can’t blame everyone for one person’s negligence,” Young said.
She is right.