Responding to a call Friday afternoon, Gulfport police officer Matt Parks found an upset five-year-old home alone because his bus driver dropped him off early.
When Parks dug a little deeper, he learned the school bus driver, Arnette Harrington, was a registered sexual offender with the state of Florida. The child's mother did not know Harrington was a sex offender.
In addition to the 1998 sexual battery conviction, Harrington does not have a valid driver's license. The state has suspended and revoked his license several times for DUI and controlled substance charges, Gulfport police say.
Nevertheless, when Parks found the private school bus at 20th Ave. S. and 51st St. S. in Gulfport this morning, Harrington had 14 children, ages two to 12, on board the brown Ford van. The van, which had a sign on the door reading "D & Dee Transportation Services," had an illegal license plate on it.
The children attend Gulfport Elementary, Thurgood Marshall Middle, Fairmount Park Elementary and Douglas Jamerson Elementary.
It's unclear how or why the private company was driving the children to and from school instead of the regular school buses run by the district, and the Pinellas County School district doesn't do business with the service.
“Absolutely they did not. It’s completely independent," said Gulfport Police Chief Rob Vincent.
Police say they have no indication of any inappropriate conduct with the children.
The designation of "sex offender" in and of itself doesn't make it illegal for Harrington to work with children, Vincent said.
"He's no longer under supervision, so he can pretty much do whatever he wants," Vincent said. "Predators are a different story, but this guy's not a predator."
Police charged Harrington with driving on a suspended or revoked license. Additionally, D & Dee Transportation did not register in St. Petersburg as a public transportation company, Vincent said. Both Gulfport and St. Petersburg have ordinances regulation who can drive a public vehicle.
"We're going to be working with the State, the Department of Revenue and the city of St. Pete, because this company is not registered as a public transportation company," Vincent said.
At this time police do not know how long Harrington worked for D & Dee Transportation. State records show no Florida corporation by that name.
View Harrington's sex offender flyer here.