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Truck driver in deadly Florida bus crash told authorities he smoked marijuana oil the night before, arrest report says

Florida bus crash kills 8, injures dozens
Arrest made in Florida bus crash that killed 8 people, injured dozens 02:06

The man accused of killing at least eight people in a bus crash on a Florida highway told investigators he smoked marijuana oil the night before and was in another accident three days earlier, according to an arrest report. Bryan Maclean Howard has been charged with eight counts of driving under the influence manslaughter after authorities say his pickup truck hit a bus and sent it off the road early Tuesday morning.

The former school bus and the truck were going in opposite directions when the truck moved toward the center line, the highway patrol said. About 40 other people were injured when the bus overturned and struck two fences on the outskirts of the central Florida city of Dunnellon, according to the highway patrol. Some victims suffered serious injuries, and several were listed in critical condition at a hospital Tuesday.

According to an arrest report from the Florida Highway Patrol, Howard told an investigator he was hanging out with a friend who had a medical marijuana card Monday night and smoked marijuana oil with him. Before Howard went to bed, he said he also took some prescription medications.

On Tuesday, Howard left his parents' house at around 6:30 a.m. to drive to a methadone clinic in Ocala, Florida, for treatment of a chipped vertebrae in his back, according to the arrest report.

Howard said he was driving carefully because he crashed his mother's car into a tree three days earlier while trying to avoid an animal that ran in front of him, according to the report.

Howard said he didn't remember how Tuesday's crash happened, according to the report. He said the weather was normal and dry. Howard told investigators he didn't pass any vehicles or was cut off by another vehicle, but a witness told the highway patrol that she saw Howard's truck "failing to maintain its lane of travel" earlier that morning, according to the report.

Howard's eyes were bloodshot and watery during the interview with the highway patrol and his speech was thick and slurred, according to the report. After Howard was arrested Tuesday afternoon, a breath test found he had a blood alcohol level of 0.000%.

During a virtual court appearance Wednesday morning, Howard told Marion County Judge LeAnn Mackey-Barnes he only has $700 and requested a public defender. Mackey-Barnes approved his request and ordered that he be held without bond.

According to online court records, Howard filed a written plea of not guilty to the DUI manslaughter charges after his court appearance. His next court appearance is scheduled for June.

A bus that overturned in a fatal crash near Dunnellon, Florida, is seen May 14, 2024.
A bus that overturned in a fatal crash near Dunnellon, Florida, is seen May 14, 2024. Reuters/Octavio Jones

The bus was taking about 53 farmworkers to a watermelon field about 80 northwest of Orlando.

Six of the deceased victims range in age from 20 to 46, according to the arrest report. They were identified as Jose Heriberto Fraga Acosta, 27; Isaias Miranda Pascal, 21; Manuel Perez Rios, 46; Cristian Salazar Villeda, 24; Alfredo Tovar Sanchez, 20; and Evarado Ventura Hernandez, 30. Two other deceased victims were identified as Hispanic males.

"It was an act of reckless irresponsibility," the Farmworker Association of Florida's Ernesto Ruiz, who has been in contact with some of the victims' families, told CBS News. "It makes it just all the more painful how stupid and how easily it could have been avoided."

Government officials said some of the farmworkers were Mexican migrants with H-2A visas, which allow foreign nationals to come into the U.S. legally to temporarily fill agricultural jobs.

In 2022, the latest year with data available, vehicle crashes were the leading cause of job-related deaths among agricultural workers, accounting for 66 of 146 fatalities, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Manuel Bojorquez and Taylor Johnston contributed reporting.

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