DPS trooper testifies in criminal negligent homicide trial

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

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

Attorneys zeroed in on the location of a tractor trailer and its role in obscuring the view of drivers during the second day of a deadly bus crash trial.

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

Lopez-Perez was a passenger on a Valley Transit bus that crashed into a utility pole at the intersection of U.S. Highway 77 South and Fleming Prairie Road on May 11, 2011. At least a dozen other passengers were injured.

The bus driver, Guadalupe Ruiz, testified he almost overtook the tractor-trailer, which was traveling in the outside lane through the Fleming Prairie intersection a little after 9 p.m. that night. That's when Marceaux, who was driving a blue, S-10 truck towing a pickup, drove into the bus' lane and struck the bus near its right, front tire.

Ruiz honked, veered left and struck a flashing light pole.

Marceaux, however, told Department of Public Safety troopers in a recorded statement that he eased out from a stop at Fleming Prairie Road to go north when he saw the tractor-trailer begin turning right. He did not see the bus' headlights.

Either way, that tractor-trailer was not at the scene when emergency personnel arrived, Trooper James Vinson said. He did not check until Monday whether a nearby gas station had a video of the wreck.

It did not, he said.

Vinson said after speaking with several witnesses, he decided the tractor-trailer was turning right.

He maintained throughout his testimony that Ruiz' split second decision to veer left was likely the lesser of two evils.

"I believe he (Ruiz) acted the best he could to avoid injuries," Vinson said of how the bus driver avoided colliding with the nearby gas pumps.

But during cross-examination, Vinson admitted Ruiz should have slowed down when approaching the intersection and not taken his hands off the wheel. The bus, which came to rest in the grassy median after dragging the flashing light pole about 20 yards, likely could not maneuver well and almost went into on-coming traffic, he said.

The speed limit on that stretch of road then was 65 mph. Ruiz had the cruise control set and applied his breaks three seconds before impact, Vinson said.

Marceaux was criminally negligent because "(Marceaux) knew there was a risk and proceeded to (cross)," the trooper said

Neither Ruiz nor Marceaux tested positive for alcohol or drugs at the time of the wreck, Vinson said.

Lopez-Perez, who sat toward the front of the bus, died from blunt force trauma consistent with a motor vehicle accident, said Satish Chundru, Travis County deputy chief medical examiner.

Assistant District Attorney Pink Dickens is prosecuting the case. Doug Murphy, of Houston, represents Marceaux.

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.

Marceaux asked presiding Judge Jack Marr to decide his sentence if he is found guilty.

The trial will resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday.



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