A truck driver who collided head-on with a church bus near Concan, Texas last year was impaired by a combination of prescription drugs and marijuana, federal investigators said.
In its Oct. 16 report, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said the March 29, 2017, crash that killed 13 people and seriously injured two underscores deficiencies in leadership, law-enforcement training, and bus safety that should be corrected to help prevent similar accidents from happening in the future.
The deadly crash occurred when Jack Dillon Young, the 20-year-old driver of a pick-up truck, crossed the center line of U.S. Highway 83, entered the southbound lane, and collided with a church bus carrying 13 passengers. Mr. Young survived the crash with serious injuries.
Investigators found unsmoked and partially smoked marijuana cigarettes in the cab of Mr. Young’s truck along with prescription and over-the-counter drugs. According to the NTSB, toxicology tests showed the presence of THC (marijuana) and clonazepam, a prescription sedative used to treat seizure and panic disorders in Mr. Young’s system. Mr. Young stated he took twice his prescribed dosage of clonazepam prior to the crash.
Prior to the crash, witnesses reported the pickup truck driving erratically, veering in and out of its lane and crossing the center line multiple times.
According to the San Antonio Express-News, Mr. Young was charged in June 2017 with 13 counts of intoxication manslaughter and one count of intoxication assault. He pleaded no contest in May and is scheduled for a sentencing hearing on Nov. 7. He faces up to 270 years in prison.
“The pick-up truck driver in this crash made terrible choices with tragic consequences,” said NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt. “But the rising tide of drug-impaired driving did not begin with this driver, and it will not end with him. Law enforcement needs additional tools and advanced training to detect impaired drivers before they crash, regardless of the impairing drug they’re using.”
The NTSB found that a lack of seat and lap belts on the church bus contributed to the severity of the crash. Passengers of the church bus would have been afforded a greater level of protection had they had access to safety belts, the NTSB said, calling on the manufacturers of smaller buses to make lap and shoulder belts standard equipment.
The horrific church bus crash also demonstrates that Texas needs more safety-focused leadership, additional resources, and data-driven strategies to prevent future impaired-driving accidents, which have soared statewide in recent years.
The agency directed its third recommendation based on the crash to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), saying it needs to promote the importance of recognizing and responding to drug-impaired driving. According to the NTSB, witnesses reported Mr. Young’s erratic and dangerous driving to authorities for more than 15 minutes before the deadly crash.