Tacoma Attorney Darrell L. Cochran is representing families of children molested by Gary Shafer, who was employed by the Olympia School District. If you or someone you know has children that potentially have been inappropriately handled by Shafer, please call our office at 1-800-259-PCVA.
A former Olympia school bus driver was sentenced to 14½ years to life in prison Thursday for sexually assaulting two 6-year-old girls in December, while he was acting as a helper on a route for Centennial Elementary School.
The girls’ mothers broke into tears as they addressed the court during Gary Shafer’s sentencing before Thurston County Superior Court Judge Gary Tabor.
One of the mothers noted that Shafer sat in her daughter’s seat so he could groom her for molestation.
“Not only did you ruin her very first year of school, but you also scarred her for life,” she said.
The other child’s mother ruefully noted that she had reassured her daughter the school bus would be safe.
“Little did I know I was tossing her into the arms of a pedophile,” she said.
Shafer’s role as a helper involved riding as a passenger to learn another driver’s route so he’d know it as a substitute.
Shafer, 32, of Port Orchard, earlier had pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree child molestation and one count of possession of child pornography for images that later were found on his computer. He also pleaded guilty under an Alford plea to an additional count of first-degree child molestation.
Under an Alford plea, a defendant maintains his or her innocence but admits there is enough evidence to convict. It carries the same sanction and prison sentence as a standard conviction.
Shafer’s attorney, Charles Lane, noted that Shafer, unlike nearly all of the other sex offenders he has represented, has admitted he has a problem.
Shafer had worked for the Olympia School District since October 2005. He was placed on administrative leave the first week of January, when the Sheriff’s Office contacted him about the allegations. He resigned Jan. 19.
Shafer’s most recent bus assignment was Route 41, which serves Reeves Middle and Hansen Elementary schools. District spokesman Peter Rex has said Shafer passed a criminal background check when he was hired. He has added that Shafer had no other disciplinary actions on his employment record with the district.
The parents of one of the girls sued the district, seeking $2.25 million. According to a tort claim notice sent by Tacoma attorney Darrell Cochran to Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Priddy, the “district’s lack of oversight and lack of response to a clearly dangerous situation is really appalling.”
In a prior interview, Cochran said he wants to know more about what the driver of the bus on Shafer’s route saw and whether he tried to prevent Shafer from having children sit on his lap.
Judge Tabor noted Thursday that Shafer has admitted to “grooming” the young girls over time so he could gain their trust. Tabor said he was troubled by that admission.
Shafer apologized to his victims, who were not in the courtroom, and their families before he was sentenced.
The state’s Indeterminate Sentencing Review Board will periodically review Shafer’s case and treatment to see whether he is eligible for release. If he is not, he could spend the rest of his life in prison under state law.
Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5465