Truck driver in fatal Texas school bus crash charged with homicide

The man behind the wheel of the concrete truck that collided with a bus full of pre-kindergarten students last week in Texas, killing one student and one driver, had taken recreational drugs hours before the collision, according to reporting by the Austin-American Statesman.

More than 40 pre-K students and 11 adults from Tom Green Elementary were making their way back to school after a field trip to the Bastrop County Zoo on March 22 when the concrete truck driver veered into the lane and struck the bus around 2 p.m.

Thirty-two people were taken to hospitals, with dozens of students and teachers reporting injuries, Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services told the Austin-American Statesman, part of the USA TODAY Network.  

Ulises Rodriguez Montoya, a pre-K student at Tom Green Elementary School and 33-year-old Ryan Wallace, a doctoral student at the University of Texas were killed as a result of the crash.

Texas Department of Public Safety told USA TODAY that the driver, 42-year-old Jerry Hernandez was arrested on a charge for criminally negligent homicide on Friday.

"He was also arrested on an unrelated warrant for a bond violation out of Hays County. Both warrants were served this afternoon at a residence in Bastrop County and he was taken into custody without incident," Deon Cockrell, Texas DPS sergeant confirmed.

Here’s what we know. 

Driver initially denied using drugs before the crash, admitting it later on

Hernandez participated in a series of conversations with investigators, initially telling them that he had not consumed any "illicit substances in the week before the crash but did have a history of using marijuana and cocaine," according to the Statesman.

He said he swerved into the bus's path "because a driver of another vehicle two car lengths ahead of him had suddenly hit their brakes." Hernandez refused to provide a blood sample to law enforcement at the crash site, investigators said. 

Hernandez told investigators he was on his way home at the time of the crash and that prior to leaving the job site, he took a 15-minute nap, the Statesman reported.

He had only gotten three hours of sleep the night before the crash, smoking marijuana around 10 p.m. that night and consuming a "small amount of cocaine" a couple hours later, at 1 a.m., according to an affidavit obtained by the Statesman.

Hernandez had failed a couple of drug tests in the last few years, once in December 2022 for marijuana and once in April 2023 for cocaine, the Statesman reported. He was initially asked to test in September 2020 by an employer, who had reasonable suspicion that he was on drugs but he refused a test, according to the Statesman.

Bryan Goertz, Bastrop District Attorney said Thursday that it “could be difficult to prove impairment” even with the driver's admission.

A bus with more than 40 people inside rolled over in western Bastrop County off Texas 21 Friday, March 22, 2024. According to law enforcement at least two people were killed including a child.

An investigator with the Texas Department of Public Safety told Goertz that he didn't believe Hernandez was impaired at the time, but that he was sleepy and likely nodded off while driving, the Statesman reported. Goertz told the Statesman that if he had “dozed off while driving, then there is "nothing criminal” about it. Especially, if the impairment can’t be proved. 

Hernandez seemed to be "unaware of the magnitude of the crash he was involved in and never mentioned striking a school bus," the affidavit states.

Francisco Martinez, the owner of the FJM Concrete Pumping LLC truck declined to comment on the crash, referring all inquiries to his attorney, who did not immediately respond to inquiries, according to the Statesman.

Martinez told investigators that "he had not verified the status of Hernandez's commercial license or the driver's history with the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse before employing him."

"Although Mr. Martinez was unaware of Mr. Hernandez's past drug related issues, Mr. Hernandez should have been aware of his status through the clearinghouse," the affidavit said.

School releases video from school bus, community raises funds for students and teachers impacted

Video footage collected by the Statesman shows the bus “traveling in the only westbound lane on the highway and the concrete truck driving in the left eastbound lane just before 1:59 p.m.”

The concrete truck veers into the westbound traffic lane seconds later. The bus driver tries to avoid the impending crash by slightly shifting onto the shoulder of the road before being hit, the Statesman reported. 

The video captures a person on the bus cry out just before the truck crashes into the group. 

The concrete truck passed the front of the bus, leaving from view of the bus’s front camera momentarily before hitting it. The bus flipped over, landing on the driver's side and facing the opposite direction in which it was traveling, according to the Statesman.

Metal chunks, papers and even students were sent flying as a result of the impact. The video records the group crying out in fear after the bus lands, the Statesman reported. 

The bus the group was on didn’t have any seatbelts, either.  Tim Savoy, a Hays school district spokesman told the Statesman that there were “no seatbelts because it was a 2011 model. School buses made since 2017 have seatbelts.”

Video time stamps indicate that the entire crash happened in less than 10 seconds, according to the Statesman. Cars driving near the bus pulled off the side of the highway, jumping out of their vehicles and running towards the bus. 

One camera captured someone calling out, "911," and another person crying, “Oh my God,” the Statesman reported. 

The Hays community has come together in the week following the crash, raising money for the families of students and teachers involved in the crash. 

GoFundMe fundraiser pages have been created for Ulises, Wallace, for a teacher with serious injuries and for all the families, the Statesman reported.

Gov. Greg Abbott called for Texans to pray for the victims of the crash. He said he'd spoken with district Superintendent Eric Wright "and offered the state's full support as they help their community through this tragedy."

"I thank the first responders and law enforcement officers who were on the scene immediately and continue to help their fellow Texans who were injured," Abbott said.


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