Trial begins in May 2011 fatal bus wreck

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

Aug. 19, 2013 at 3:19 a.m.
Updated Aug. 20, 2013 at 3:20 a.m.

Testimony began Monday afternoon in the trial of a Louisiana man charged with causing a fatal bus accident on U.S. Highway 77.

Larry Phillip Marceaux, 32, of Vinton, La., is charged with criminal negligent homicide for the death of Juana Lopez-Perez.

Prosecutors allege Marceaux caused her death when he both failed to maintain proper lookout and yield the right of way while crossing the two lanes of U.S. Highway 77 South in a blue S-10 while towing another pickup May 11, 2011.

They say he forced a bus, operated by Valley Transit Company, off the roadway, possibly because his vision was obscured by a tractor-trailer making a right turn onto Fleming Prairie Road a little after 9 p.m.

In opening statements, Pink Dickens, a Victoria County assistant district attorney, said Marceaux was also carrying too heavy a load.

"She (Lopez-Perez) is gone, and Mr. Marceaux is here today," Dickens said.

Marceaux's attorney, Doug Murphy, meanwhile, advised jurors that the intersection, even with its relocated flashing lights, has long been prone to accidents because there is a bend and hill nearby.

Marceaux stopped at a gas station to ensure his lights were still on and towing mechanisms intact, and evidence will show the bus driver was on cruise control and steered left in the direction of oncoming traffic, Murphy said.

"This is a very tragic accident, but it is not a crime," he said.

The state called Isaias Velasco, who was sitting toward the back of the bus that day, and Guadalupe Ruiz, the bus driver.

Ruiz, a Valley Transit Company bus driver for more than 18 years, said if he veered right, he would have hit the tractor-trailer and surely injured or killed Marceaux. He was traveling at about 65 mph and tapped on his horn and turned the wheel left in the seconds after he discovered Marceaux venturing into his lane.

"We're always being told to drive defensively, and that is what I attempted to do," he said.

Lopez-Perez, of Matamoros, Mexico, sat in the third row of the bus. She died after the bus hit the flashing light pole and came to rest in the center median, Ruiz said.

"Her right arm was out," he said. "I reached for her wrist, and there was no pulse."

Troopers did not issue Marceaux a citation at the scene. After the accident, several passengers sued Marceaux and Valley Transit Company in civil court. Some cases are still pending.

Criminal negligent homicide is a state jail felony punishable by between 180 days to two years in state jail, and up to a $10,000 fine could be assessed.

The trial will resume at 9 a.m. before Judge Jack Marr in the 24th District Court. Murphy is expected to cross examine Ruiz then.

Assistant District Attorney Johna Stallings is assisting.



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