The driver of a tractor trailer who crossed a highway median and collided with a bus in Oklahoma last year, killing four members of the North Central Texas College softball team, was high on synthetic marijuana or “spice,” as the substance is commonly called, federal investigators have determined.
Authorities in Murray County, Okla., charged Russel Wayne Staley, 53, Thursday in Murray County District Court for the deaths of the four players, Meagan Richardson, 19 of Wylie, Texas; Katelynn Woodlee, 18, of Windom, Texas; Jaiden Pelton, 20, of Telephone, Texas; and Brooke Deckard, 20, of Scurry, Texas.
The players were headed home to Gainesville, Texas, Sept. 26, 2014, after a scrimmage in Oklahoma when Mr. Staley’s truck veered off of I-35 north, crossed a 100-foot-wide median, and entered the southbound lanes of traffic.
Mr. Staley’s truck rammed the side of the bus traveling about 70 mph, causing it to flip onto its side. Several other players were injured in the crash.
Investigators reported that Mr. Staley said he had been distracted by something inside the cab of the truck, but the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said in a preliminary report that there were no signs that Mr. Staley attempted to brake or take any other evasive action as his truck traveled more than 1,100 feet.
First responders who questioned Mr. Staley at the Oklahoma bus crash site said that he appeared to be in a “zombie state.” Police inspecting the cab found a variety of prescription drugs and the odor of smoke. Authorities ran toxicology tests on Mr. Staley, but they have not publicly released the results.
Mr. Staley does not have a criminal record and his driving record is clean as well. According to News 8 Dallas, the company he drove for, Quickway Carriers, is registered under the same Tennessee address four times.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) records show that Quickway has been involved in nearly 50 crashes during a two-year period, with more than half those crashes resulting in injuries.
Mr. Staley is charged with four counts of first-degree manslaughter. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for February.