Trial begins for semi driver accused of hitting school bus in Columbia County

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UPDATE (WKOW) — Eyewitnesses testify Indiana semi-truck driver Wayne Murphy swerved on the interstate before his truck slammed into a school bus parked on the highway’s shoulder, injuring children inside.

The 43-year-old Murphy is on trial for 10 felony charges and 36 misdemeanor crimes, including causing great bodily harm through intoxicated driving.

Assistant Columbia County District Attorney Jordan Lippert says Murphy had the prescription drug Xanax in his system at more than the “therapeutic level.” Court records state Murphy may have taken twice the prescribed daily amount.

Lippert says more than two dozen middle and grade-schoolers were on the bus near Lodi May 23, 2018, and many were hurt, including one person who Lippert expects will require lifelong medical care. The children were from a Milwaukee school and were headed to a Wisconsin Dells amusement attraction on a field trip when their bus developed a mechanical problem and pulled over on the interstate.

Jurors were shown video of the collision from four different cameras on the bus.  The video showed screaming children trying to rush off the bus after it was hit, and Murphy’s semi pulling over after the impact.

Virginia truck driver John Blair testified Monday he saw Murphy’s semi-truck swerve several times between Janesville and the collision location.  Blair said Murphy’s truck hit a mile marker sign at one point.  He said he was concerned and called Murphy’s trucking company at least three times to report the driving, but did not call 911.

Murphy’s attorney Ronald Benavides told jurors Murphy had logged more than a million miles over the road without any other incident of this sort.

Benavides said Murphy will testify at trial that the top-heavy cargo of his truck and strong wind affected his driving, not the prescription drug.

Truck driver Tom O’Connell said he witnessed Murphy’s driving just before the crash and the collision itself.  O’Connell said while Murphy corrected his path enough to avoid rear-ending the bus squarely, he said there was no impacting wind to speak of.

“This was not a wind incident,” O’Connell testified.

State Patrol Sergeant Michael Marquardt testified he made contact with Murphy after the crash and said “…he was there,” but did not appear cognitively sharp.

“His balance was poor,” Lippert testified about Murphy’s performance in a field sobriety test.

Benavides said Murphy was driving “the fog line” – the solid white line marking the right edge of the highway lane adjacent to the road’s shoulder.  Benavides told jurors Murphy was staying to the interstate’s right due to other traffic’s close position to his truck’s left.

Murphy has been in the Columbia County jail since the collision with a bail of $35,000.
The trial is expected to continue through the week.

COLUMBIA COUNTY (WKOW) — Attorneys presented opening arguments today in the trial of a semi driver accused of slamming into a school bus along the Interstate in Columbia County and injuring passengers.

Wayne Murphy faces five counts of injury by intoxicated use of a vehicle and five counts of second degree reckless injury.

The crash happened near Lodi on May 23, 2018. All 33 people on board had were hurt. Court documents show several were in critical condition, with difficulty breathing, concussions and broken bones just some of the injuries.

State Trooper Michael Marquardt testified during a preliminary hearing in July that pills were found in Murphy’s truck.

The criminal complaint against Murphy reveals another truck driver saw Murphy veering off the road. That driver called the 800 number on the back of his trailer, and the company called state authorities.

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