A jury trial for an Indianapolis man charged with drugged driving began Monday with testimony from a semitrailer driver who called another driver’s company four times in hopes of getting him off the road before a crash that injured 26 children on Interstate 39/90/94 near Arlington.
“I didn’t know if he was falling asleep, or what. I knew something was wrong,” Virginia resident John Blair said. “I was afraid it was gonna swerve over at the last minute, and that’s exactly what happened.”
Blair testified in court and recalled the moment he watched in his side mirror as Wayne Edward Murphy’s semitrailer struck a school bus broken down on the side of the interstate.
Murphy, 43, is charged in Columbia County Circuit Court with 10 felonies and 36 misdemeanors, including causing injury by intoxicated use of a vehicle and second-degree reckless injury.
During opening arguments, public defender Ronald Benavides asked jurors to avoid jumping to conclusions until they’ve heard all the facts completely laid out before them.
Benavides told jurors they will hear from Murphy himself later this week when he testifies about weather conditions and other environmental factors in the crash as he made every possible effort to avoid a collision.
Assistant District Attorney Jordan Lippert urged jurors to consider the 33 children aboard the bus headed for a school field trip to Knuckleheads Trampoline Park in Wisconsin Dells on May 23, 2018.
He showed video footage from the crash that showed the school bus parked on the right shoulder of the westbound interstate before a semitrailer hit it, spraying scraps of metal onto the roadway.
Lippert said at least 26 of those children were injured, including one girl harmed so severely that she will “suffer her entire life.”
“The force of that collision threw children through the air,” Lippert said.
The Wisconsin State Hygiene Laboratory detected traces of opioid-based medication and the tranquilizer benzodiazepine in Murphy’s blood after the crash. Lippert said jurors will hear more about evidence that suggests the defendant took more medication than prescribed and chose to drive while impaired.
Sgt. Michael Marquardt with the Wisconsin State Patrol testified Monday that Murphy seemed distracted and was unable to follow instructions during a field sobriety test after the crash.
About 20% of semitrailers in the U.S. have video cameras inside, Marquardt said, adding that while Murphy’s truck did not, the school bus he crashed into did.
Benavides questioned Marquardt about how close to the white line alongside the highway the school bus was parked before the crash.
Marquardt said the left side of the bus was on the rumbles at least a foot away from the line and was partially parked in a patch of gravel.
Assistant Attorney General Tara Jenswold showed Blair, the trucker who tried to issue a warning about Murphy’s driving, a map of the interstate on Monday and asked him about his observations while driving behind Murphy the day of the crash.
Blair said he first began following Murphy on the interstate near Janesville and saw the Dahl Trucking company vehicle drive through mud and clip a mile marker sign along the way.
Blair was driving a Swift Transportation semitrailer. He said he pulled out his cellphone while driving with one hand and took several photos of the other truck as it apparently swerved and drove on the shoulder at various points.
Before the crash, Blair said other vehicles switched lanes to avoid the school bus, but Murphy stayed in the right side lane.
Answering a question from Benavides during cross-examination, Blair said he is aware that trucks carrying top-heavy loads could be affected by strong winds.
The jury trial resumes Tuesday at 9 a.m. in Branch Three of the Columbia County Courthouse with Judge Troy Cross presiding.