Judge Taking Weekend to Consider Evidence in Fatal Bus Crash Case

On September 26, 2014, a busload of softball players from North Central Texas College was returning home from a tournament at Southern Nazarene University in Bethany. At about 9:00 p.m., as the bus traveled south down I-35 near Ardrmore, a northbound semi truck crossed the "wide" median, striking the bus and shearing off its side. The crash left four young women dead and seriously injured five others.

A federal investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) showed just how far the semi traveled without any evidence of attempting to avoid the crash:

In the vicinity of milepost 47, after negotiating a slight rightward curve at a speed of about 72 mph, the truck-tractor departed the left lane and entered the 100-foot-wide depressed earthen median at an approximate 2 degree angle. The truck-tractor continued through the median, traveling over 1,100 feet without evidence of braking or steering. The combination vehicle then entered the southbound lanes of I-35 at an approximate 9 degree angle and collided with the bus. Following the impact, the bus rolled onto its right side, and the truck-tractor continued off the roadway into a wooded area. As a result of the crash, four passengers on the bus were fully or partially ejected and died, and both drivers and the remaining passengers were injured.

Russell Staley, the driver of the semi truck that struck the bus told crash investigators that he was distracted by reaching under a seat for a can of soda. However, the NTSB report found it more likely that the cause of the accident was Staley's impairment by synthetic marijuana rather than simple distraction: "The truck driver’s use of synthetic cannabinoids (SC) was identified as a safety issue based on his toxicology results, his lack of corrective action as he departed the roadway, and his history of drug use."

Staley was charged with four counts of first degree manslaughter. At a preliminary hearing this week, Murray County Associate Judge Aaron Duck heard testimony and evidence related to the case. At the conclusion of the hearing, Duck said that he would take the weekend to consider all testimony before determining on Monday whether or not to bind Staley over for trial on the manslaughter charges.

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