Defense attorney: ‘Black box’ shows that train was speeding before bus crash

Local News

ATHENS, Texas (KETK) – The case of an Athens ISD bus driver charged for the death of a student after colliding with a train will be delayed for another month as the defense team tries to speak with the train engineers.

John Stevens, 79, is charged with criminally negligent homicide and injury to a child for the January 2019 bus crash that killed one Athens ISD student and injured a second. He pled not guilty last summer.

In a pre-trial hearing on Monday, the defense team told 392nd District Court Judge Scott McKee that they have been in contact with the lawyers for the Union Pacific engineers, but they have neither been granted nor denied an appointment to interview them.

The defense claimed that the train’s “black box” showed that it was speeding while traveling through the Athens city limits, which emphasized why they wanted to speak to the engineers.

McKee decided to delay any further proceedings on the hearing until March 4 at 1 p.m. He reminded defense attorneys that even if the train engineers testify in open court, they may exercise their 5th Amendment rights not to answer questions.

Attorney Brian Schmidt said that would be fine as long as it was in open court.

The collision killed 13-year-old Christopher Bonilla after he was ejected from the bus and severely injured 9-year-old Joselyne Torres. They were less than half a mile from their stop. Stevens was also injured in the collision.

There are no flashing lights or automatic gates at the crossing and it is known for having trees obstructing the vision of motorists. However, there are gates and flashing lights at the two adjacent intersections next to the collision site.

Many in the community at the time of the crash came to Stevens’ defense, saying he was a victim as well. If convicted, he could face up to 22 years in prison.

The family members of the children on the bus have also filed a civil lawsuit against Stevens, Athens ISD, Union Pacific, as well as the conductor and engineer of the train involved.

The suit claims that Stevens “failed to stop for a train, failed to keep a proper lookout, and suffered from driver inattention.” They are seeking more than $1 million in damages and will request a jury trial.

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