No Manslaughter Conviction for Driver in 2011 Fatal Bus Crash

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In March 2011, the nation was riveted as the story of a horrific tour bus accident unfolded. The passengers were returning from an all-night gambling outing when the driver apparently dozed off at the wheel. The bus swerved, hit the guardrail, toppled onto its side and hit a sign pole. The bus was going fast enough that the pole sheered through the vehicle at the window line. Fifteen passengers died; many others sustained severe injuries.

While no one from North Carolina was involved in that wreck, tour bus companies here felt the aftershock. Federal regulators launched a crackdown that resulted in more than a handful of operators shutting down. As the investigation continued, the crash triggered both civil and criminal actions, including charges of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and assault against the driver.

The long trial ended recently, and the jury deliberated for almost two weeks. Last week, the driver heard the verdict: He was guilty of just one of the 54 counts against him. The jury found him guilty of third-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. The sentence was 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.

The driver has already spent 15 months in jail awaiting trial. If convicted of the more serious charges, he could have faced 15 years in prison.

The prosecutor admitted it was a difficult case, explaining to colleagues that “everyone falls asleep at the wheel at some point.” Defense counsel commented that the case shouldn’t have been in criminal court at all.

The driver’s troubles aren’t over. He is named as a defendant in civil actions brought by the injured and families of the passengers who died.

Source: Thomson Reuters News & Insight, “Bus driver cleared of manslaughter in deadly NY crash,” Jonathan Allen, Dec. 7, 2012

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