PAINESVILLE, Ohio -- A father was sentenced to 12 months in prison Wednesday for punching his daughter's school bus driver in the face in front of a busload of elementary school students.
Ronnie Haskins, 37, of Cleveland Heights, pleaded guilty to charges including felony assault and inducing panic following the March incident. He's subject to three years of community control after his release from prison.
Prosecutors said Haskins boarded his daughter's school bus as it exited Grant Elementary School, began yelling at the driver, and then demanded the 9-year-old be allowed to leave with him.
When the 70-year-old driver, Robert Graf, refused to let the girl off the bus, Haskins punched him in the face and left with the girl. Graf said he briefly lost consciousness and suffered bruising and swelling over his left eye.
"Everybody looks at this case, and they see my picture with my eye all puffed up and everything. When I look at this case, I see 45 screaming, scared-to-death kids," Graf told a judge.
Haskins said he was trying to speak with Graf about why his daughter was dropped off at her stop two days earlier, even though no one was home.
"First, I want to apologize to Mr. Robert. I didn't intend on assaulting him. All I wanted to know was why was my daughter left," Haskins said. "I was just there to try to spare my daughter, and I turned around and my elbow hit him, but I never punched him. My elbow hit him. That was an accident. I didn't even know I hit him until I saw it later on on the news."
In court, Haskins also said Graf threatened to hurt him and used a racial slur, which Graf denied.
Graf said Haskins punched him when he reached for his radio to call police after Haskins refused to leave the bus.
"He didn't hit me with his elbow, and it wasn't accidental. He punched me right here in the side of the face," Graf told the judge.
Graf said he had tried to explain that drivers are not allowed to leave kids anywhere other than at school or their designated home address.
"I never saw him before in my life. I had no idea he was the father," Graf said.
Haskins has a criminal record that includes arrests for assault, robbery and drugs.
Before handing down the sentence, Judge John O'Donnell said he felt Graf's account of the incident was more credible.