Crime

Ex-school bus driver molested girl while driving, prosecutor says

Sergio Sandoval stands in Jackson County Circuit Court on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017.
Sergio Sandoval stands in Jackson County Circuit Court on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017. Sun Herald

School bus driver Sergio Sandoval, 67, touched an 8-year-old girl’s genitals while she stood next to him as he drove an Ocean Springs school bus, a prosecutor said.

And after the fourth time, Sandoval shoved his hand down her pants and had sex with her, the prosecutor said in opening arguments Tuesday in Sandoval’s trial in Jackson County Circuit Court.

The girl was a second-grader at Oak Park Elementary School in the fall of 2014, Assistant District Attorney Justin Lovorn told a jury.

“That man used her naivete to indulge in his depraved sexual desires,” Lovorn said.

Sandoval is on trial on four counts of unlawful touching of a child and one count of sexual battery. Judge Kathy King Jackson is presiding.

Sandoval had been a bus driver for the Ocean Springs School District for eight years until the girl and her father reported the alleged crimes to her principal and to police. Sandoval was fired for violating school district policies for bus drivers.

The girl had ridden Sandoval’s bus a couple of months when the alleged crimes occurred between September and October of 2014, and she was one of the last students to get off the bus, Lovorn said.

The girl and a friend of hers are expected to testify, he said.

Jury to see video

Some of the alleged acts are not shown on surveillance footage because the recordings are taped over automatically when the memory becomes full, Lovorn told the jury.

But several of the more recent incidents remained on tape and will be played for the jury, he said. Surveillance shows the girl was on the bus as long as 30 minutes at a time and she stood beside him for as much as 11 minutes, Lovorn said. The jury will view the footage, he said.

Sandoval had appointed the girl to be a bus monitor and had her stand up front by him so he could touch her, Lovorn said. Sandoval reportedly had the girl turn her back to the other students to hide what he was doing, he added.

By the time Sandoval had sexually assaulted her, “he knew he had crossed the line,” the prosecutor said. “He had to fix it.”

Sandoval recommended the girl receive a certificate for being a good bus rider, Lovorn said.

But the girl went home and tearfully told her father what had been happening, Lovorn said.

The father and daughter met with Principal Jennifer Pope the next day. The father wanted his daughter to keep her activities normal, but the girl seemed “shaken up,” Pope said.

Pope described the student as “a pretty little girl” who is smart and “very shy.” She said it surprised her to learn Sandoval had picked “a timid student” to be a bus monitor.

Pope and Timothy Weimer, school district transportation supervisor, both testified it was in violation of school district policies for students to stand when a bus is moving. Also, the bus driver is in charge of a bus when the driver is the only adult on board, Weimer said.

Lovorn showed time sheets that Weimer said confirmed the days Sandoval was working, days when the alleged sex crimes occurred. Weimer said the administration later asked that the bus number be changed.

On the witness list

Ocean Springs police and a forensic interviewer are among those on the witness list.

The girl’s recollection has been consistent since the beginning, said Lovorn, who is prosecuting the case with Assistant District Attorney Angel Myers.

Jim Davis, Sandovol’s attorney, urged the jury to not be swayed by sympathy or prejudice as he gave his opening arguments.

“They (prosecutors) have to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt,” Davis said. “There is not a single bit of evidence that will corroborate what the girl has said.”

Alwyn Luckie, attorney for the school district, attended the first day of trial.

“We do background checks and we haven’t changed our policies,” Luckie said. “The school district will always do what it can to ensure the safety of students.”

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews

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