Crime

Ex-Ocean Springs bus driver accused of sexually abusing 8-year-old student gets hearing delay

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A court hearing set Wednesday to determine whether former Ocean Springs school bus driver Sergio Sandoval is competent to stand trial for allegedly sexually abusing a 8-year-old student was postponed.

The new hearing is set for Oct. 2.

Sandoval’s attorney, Jim Davis, said he planned to ask for the continuance because he did not receive certain reports until Wednesday, when the hearing was set to begin.

However, District Attorney Angel Myers-McIlrath said it was standard protocol for an alleged offender to get a reevaluation the morning of a hearing to make sure nothing has changed as far his mental capacity to go to trial. In addition, she said, all parties agreed to pushing the hearing back.

Sandoval, 69, first went to trial on charges of sexual battery and molestation in February 2017. However, Judge Kathy King Jackson declared a mistrial after Sandoval’s attorney said he fainted during a break and had to go to Singing River Hospital for treatment.

Hospital staff told the judge that Sandoval’s illness at the time was stress-related. The judge ended the trial and ordered a psychiatric exam to determine his competency.

After Sandoval’s initial testing at the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield, a doctor recommended Sandoval’s transfer to the state hospital for further testing, treatment and observation.

The judge also instructed state hospital staff to treat to Sandoval even if he didn’t want it.

Sandoval was a longtime bus driver for Ocean Springs schools when he was arrested on allegations that he sexually abused a second-grader from Oak Park Elementary student while she rode his bus in September and October 2014.

He called the girl by terms of endearment, named her a bus monitor, and had her stand up front near him as he drove, according to testimony and surveillance footage released during his first trial.

A doctor and a psychologist who perform forensic evaluations to determine whether an alleged offender is competent to stand trial were among those subpoenaed to testify at Wednesday’s hearing.

In addition, the defense subpoenaed Jackson County jail detainee Cory William Skalla, 42, to provide testimony. Skalla is in jail on 14 felony charges for sex crimes involving a 15-year-old boy and the dissemination of sexually-oriented material.

Margaret Baker is an investigative reporter whose search for truth exposed corrupt sheriffs, a police chief and various jailers and led to the first prosecution of a federal hate crime for the murder of a transgendered person. She worked on the Sun Herald’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Hurricane Katrina team. When she pursues a big story, she is relentless.
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