Edwin Rivera, a severely disabled 22-year-old, was supposed to be escorted home from his special-needs school.
Instead, authorities said Friday, a matron eager to get to an appointment knowingly stranded him on a bus where he spent an icy New Year's night alone. He was found, curled up and rocking, after more than 17 hours parked in a Brooklyn bus yard.
The matron, Linda Hockaday, was charged with reckless endangerment and fired.
"There's no excuse for it," said Peter R. Silverman, a lawyer for Outstanding Transport Inc., a company that specializes in transporting the disabled. "It's just inconceivable."
Hockaday, 51, did not enter a plea at her arraignment Friday; her bond was set at $2,500. Her lawyer, Candace Kurtz, said Hockaday has no criminal record.
A telephone number for Rivera's family rang unanswered Friday. One of his sisters, Khristine, told reporters Thursday the episode amounted to "negligence and stupidity."
"Just because he is the way he is doesn't mean he's less of a person," she said. "He just needs extra help."
Rivera's parents reported him missing after he didn't return from his school Wednesday evening.
Their 6-foot-2 son, who has cerebral palsy and is unable to communicate verbally, still had his seatbelt on when he was found, police said. His body temperature had dropped about three degrees during a night when the outside temperature ranged from 15 to 30 degrees, according to the criminal complaint.
He was in stable condition Friday at Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center.
Hockaday told police she knew Rivera hadn't been dropped off and was asleep on the bus when she got off, the complaint said. But she didn't tell the driver because she was headed for an appointment and didn't want to go back to Rivera's East Harlem home, according to the complaint.
Her lawyer suggested the blame shouldn't fall only on Hockaday.
"If, in fact, what they say is true -- and it's a big if -- there's a driver on that bus who, I would think, would be a kind of double-checking system," Kurtz said.
The bus company's attorney said drivers rely on matrons, or escorts, to make sure all the passengers have gotten off, and the escorts are held responsible. They get monthly training emphasizing that duty, Silverman said.
Hockaday, who had worked for the company for about a year and a half, was fired Thursday, he said.
If convicted, she could face up to seven years in prison.