Prosecutors are no longer pursuing a sex crimes charge against a former Palm Beach County school bus driver.
Just before Oral Pryce was to stand trial Monday, the State Attorney’s Office dropped a lewd or lascivious conduct count filed in September 2014.
Pryce, 42, was arrested after school district police said he told a 15-year-old student he wanted to drive off with her and rape her.
But Pryce, of West Palm Beach, denied saying anything inappropriate to his accuser, telling an officer that children always make accusations without proof and “you cannot trust anyone.”
Assistant State Attorney Jessica Kahn notified the court that although there was sufficient reason to arrest and charge Pryce, the felony case had been dismissed.
“I can only assume that the state conceded that the evidence that would have been presented to a jury was insufficient to convict Mr. Pryce,” said his attorney, Scott Skier, commending the prosecutor for not “forcing a trial.”
He told the Sun Sentinel the prosecution witnesses were not credible and “were simply not telling the truth about what occurred on that bus.”
Pryce resigned his $15,679-a-year job last March, records show. A conviction on the charge could have been punishable by up to 15 years in state prison.
According to an arrest report, Pryce and the accuser had previously exchanged text messages about special bus pickups in front of her Riviera Beach home. But after the girl boarded the bus Sept. 15, 2014, Pryce admittedly drove past another student waiting at a bus stop.
Then a four-year school district employee, Pryce said he pulled over and parked the bus, turned off the engine, and shared his McDonald’s breakfast with the girl. What happened next is in dispute.
The girl told police Pryce asked her to take his wife’s place. The accuser said Pryce said, “I’ll give you my bank card…remember, you’re the last person that rides my bus. I’ll drive away with you and rape you.”
The student also said the driver, before taking her to school, threatened to kill her if she told anyone about it.
Later that day, Pryce started exchanging text messages with her and phoned her, asking her why she hadn’t taken the bus home after school. He told police he was concerned for her health and “denied ever making any comments that were sexual in nature.”
But the girl said she recorded their final phone conversation, the report said. After the girl told Pryce she was sick, he allegedly made more sexual remarks and asked her to text photos of herself to his phone.
The girl then went to the police.
Skier said the secret phone call recording would not have been permitted in a trial.
After the prosecutor dropped the charge, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Charles Burton rescinded an order preventing Pryce from having contact with anyone under 18 years of age.