Bus driver leaves girl, 5, at Berckmans Road stop

A Richmond County school bus driver was relieved of duties pending an investigation Tuesday, a day after being accused of leaving a 5-year-old girl alone along Berckmans Road.

The kindergartner wandered in the heat until passersby helped reunite her with her family, said Linda Gelinas, the girl's grandmother. Emma Sullivan was supposed to be at an after-school program, but paperwork was lost and she was sent home from C.T. Walker Traditional Magnet School by bus.

No one discovered Emma missing until her father arrived at C.T. Walker to pick her up, Ms. Gelinas said. All the while, Emma walked from the bus stop near one of the entrances of Augusta National Golf Club to her apartment complex, which is also on Berckmans Road.

Emma's family wants to know why the "tiny" girl of about 40 pounds was left on the side of a well-traveled road, crying, sweaty and scared.

"No one even called (Monday) night to make sure she had been found," Ms. Gelinas said. She worried that Emma might have been taken or hit by a car.

Superintendent Dana Bedden's office issued a news release Tuesday afternoon, stating he was informed of the situation Monday and that no decision would be made on the bus driver's fate until all information is collected.

Emma's mother, Kristin Sullivan, said she filled out paperwork about how her daughter would be transported to and from school during an open house Friday. She wrote down that her daughter would ride the bus to school and be picked up when her after-school program was over.

"No one at the office can say what happened to those forms," Mrs. Sullivan said.

A substitute teacher asked Emma if she rode the bus, and she said yes, her mother said.

Despite objections from other students on the bus and a tearful Emma, the driver told her to get off the bus, Mrs. Sullivan said. She walked from the bus stop to the back of her apartment complex in the afternoon heat, checked the door to her apartment and walked back to her stop.

During a frantic search, Mrs. Sullivan called the Richmond County Sheriff's Office, which was preparing to issue an Amber Alert, she said.

Emma was found by an off-duty Columbia County reserve sheriff's deputy and his wife, who was delivering flowers in the area, Mrs. Sullivan said.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.