Former school bus driver pleads not guilty to 24 sex crimes

EDINBURG — A former school bus driver pleaded not guilty Monday to 24 counts of various sex crimes involving minors during his arraignment on three separate indictments.

Jose Luis Garza, 60, entered a not guilty plea to each grand jury indictment.

Garza is accused of victimizing eight children while he was employed as a bus driver for IDEA North Mission, according to the indictments.

At the time of his employment with the public charter school district, IDEA’s North Mission campus served students in kindergarten through fourth grade and sixth to eighth grade.

The district terminated Garza in April 2018 following a student’s outcry of abuse. He was arrested by Hidalgo County sheriff’s deputies in May 2018 and was subsequently arrested three more times on a total of eight charges over the course of the sheriff’s office investigation.

In total, Garza faces 18 counts of indecency with a child by contact, a second-degree felony; four counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child under 14, a second-degree felony; and two counts of continuous sexual abuse of a child under 14, a first-degree felony. The most serious count carries a sentence of up to life in prison if convicted.

State District Judge Letty Lopez set cash bonds on the 16 new counts in the indictments; combined, the bonds amount to $300,000, which Garza’s attorney called “more than necessary to secure (his client’s) appearance (in court).” He had pushed for personal recognizance bonds, telling the judge Garza’s family had already spent $15,000 previously bonding him out of jail over the summer.

As of press time, Garza remained in the custody of the county jail.

Judge Lopez scheduled his jury trial to begin May 13.