LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A state police report into a November bus crash that killed six migrant farm workers from Mexico says the driver was “inattentive” in an unsafe manner, but decisions on possible traffic citations or criminal charges will be made after state and federal investigators wrap up their work.
Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley said Monday that while there is always an interest in handling cases swiftly, it’s best to wait until the National Transportation Safety Board and others reach their own conclusions.
“You don’t want any surprises that would impact any decision that we would make,” Jegley said.
The bus, owned by Vasquez Citrus and Hauling of Lake Placid, Florida, was travelling from Michigan to Mexico when it left Interstate 40 in North Little Rock, struck a wall and plowed into bridge pilings. The dead included five men ages 21-41, plus a 47-year-old woman. Six other people were injured.
The Arkansas Motor Vehicle Crash Report prepared after the accident blamed the driver’s “unsafe operation” due to “inattentive, careless, negligent, or erratic operation.”
NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss said Monday that his agency is doing a safety investigation and the state is undertaking a criminal investigation.
Jegley said it was too early to say what charges might be considered. Most possible charges have a three-year statute of limitations. Weiss said the NTSB investigation should take a year and would end with only recommendations for improving highway safety. The Arkansas State Police report said some of its investigation was still pending, including drug and alcohol screening, and that it intends to give Jegley the case file.
“He will determine whether he wants to move forward with a criminal violation, depending on his determination, we would look at whether we would issue the applicable ticket for a moving violation of some kind,” state police spokesman Bill Sadler said late last week.
Federal regulations require that drivers carrying 16 or more passengers hold commercial driver’s licenses or learner’s permits, but some exceptions are made, including for certain vehicles used in agriculture. The driver didn’t hold a commercial license, according to the Arkansas State Police report, but it wasn’t clear whether he qualified for or claimed an exception.
Vasquez Citrus and Hauling did not return three telephone calls seeking comment in the past week, and twice Monday its office phone went unanswered during business hours.
The company provides foreign labour to U.S. farms. The Mexican government has said the 19 workers on the bus were heading back to their homes following the growing season.
Weiss said the NTSB will look at the driver, his licensing and his driving history, among other things.
Associated Press writer Claudia Lauder contributed to this report.
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