RIVERHEAD, Long island — They were entrusted to care for a nine-year-old boy whose autism prevents him from speaking. Instead, according to prosecutors, two school bus matrons and a school bus driver are charged with attacking the boy repeatedly. The accusations, if true, could send the three to prison for many years.
"It's depraved, absolutely depraved," said Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini about the alleged crimes carried out by bus matrons Auga Roberts, 68, and Anneris Contreras, 56, as well as bus driver James LaGreca, 81.
All three face charges of endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person. It's a felony that carries a penalty of 1 1/3 to 4 years in prison, per each count, which could be served consecutively. Roberts faces seven counts, while Contreras faces four, and LaGreca faces two.
"There are several instances where Roberts can be seen kicking the victim," Sini said at a news conference after the three appeared before a judge on Tuesday, following the grand jury's unsealing of indictments against them.
Prosecutors said that they were helped by surveillance video from the bus on which the three adults worked with the child with autism.
"Roberts is also seen on the video bending the child's toes backwards," Sini said, "causing the child to cry out in pain."
A sign on display at the bus lot for East End Bus Lines, where the trio worked, reads, "Do Something Nice for A Child Today." Investigators said the three did not follow the directive of the sign.
"On multiple occasions," said Sini, "both Roberts and Contreras would use the victim's own hand to slap the victim in his face."
"On one occasion," the district attorney continued, "the victim removed his shoe and threw his shoe at LaGreca. LaGreca threw it back at the child."
The alleged abuse came to light, prosecutors said, after the boy got home from his school, Masera Learning Center, a few times last fall, and the boy's father suspected something was wrong.
The father contacted the school, according to the district attorney, and it contacted the bus company, which in turn got in touch with investigators. The bus company also provided on-board surveillance video to investigators, the D.A. said. That video has not yet been released publicly.
At court on Tuesday, neither bus matron chose to speak. They also tried to conceal their faces from cameras, even though the district attorney's office had released their arrest photographs. LaGreca, the bus driver, did not try to conceal his identity, and he had his attorney make a statement on his behalf.
"He has his own special needs grandchild who he helped raise," said attorney James Vlahadamis, outside of the courtroom. Mr. LaGreca maintains his innocence, and we'll display that in the litigation in this case."
The district attorney pointed out that he had also cared for special needs children, when he was a therapist during law school.
"As someone who was a caregiver to an autistic child, I can tell you it's not easy," Sini told reporters. "But don't put yourself in a position to where you're entrusted with the safety of a child and then violate that trust," he said, adding, "If you can't do the job, don't take the job."
All three defendants have been terminated from East End Bus Lines.
The company did not respond to requests from PIX11 News for comment.