Man acquitted of criminal negligent homicide in fatal May 2011 crash
Aug. 21, 2013 at 3:21 a.m.
A jury Wednesday found a Louisiana man involved in a fatal bus accident not guilty of criminal negligent homicide.
Larry Phillip Marceaux, 32, of Vinton, La., was charged with forcing a Valley Transit Company bus out of its lane at the intersection of U.S. Highway 77 South and Fleming Prairie Road on the night of May 11, 2011.
That bus veered to the left and struck a flashing light pole in a grassy median. A passenger sitting toward the front, Juana Lopez-Perez, died from blunt force trauma.
Marceaux's attorneys, Doug Murphy and Gary Trichter, agreed there are no winners.
"We are very sorry for the family of the deceased," Trichter said. "Although this case may be over, (Marceaux's) memories are not."
Marceaux remembers climbing inside the bus moments after the wreck with a flashlight to help passengers out, which he is thankful he could do, Murphy said.
Assistant District Attorney Pink Dickens, meanwhile, respected the verdict.
He added that criminal negligence is hard to prove, and the Department of Public Safety trooper who investigated the wreck, James Vinson, worked hard, especially because he had three major criminal investigations on his plate within a month and a half.
During closing statements and for much of the three-day trial, attorneys argued over what brought about such a tragic situation.
The wreck could have been avoided had the bus driver, Guadalupe Ruiz, slowed down from the posted 65 mph hour speed limit as a flashing yellow light suggested to him about a football field away, Murphy said.
He added Marceaux, who was driving a blue, S-10 truck towing another pickup, could not force a 47,000-pound bus with 25 passengers off the road because he had neither the speed nor the weight to do so.
Dickens however, reminded jurors that the bus driver was not on trial. He pointed to Marceaux's written statement to DPS troopers that night in which he said he eased out from a stop at Fleming Prairie Road as he saw a tractor-trailer turning right.
Photographs taken later showed another tractor-trailer with an average-sized cab block what would have been Marceaux's view, which proved he did not maintain proper look out, he said.
That tractor-trailer driver did not stop after the wreck and was never found.
Although he could not predict whether the driver's testimony would change the trial's outcome, Murphy said the disappearance proved the tractor-trailer driver did not hear the wreck because he or she completed the turn when Marceaux eased out from the stop.
The defense's first assertion though was akin to saying a bank robbery victim was at fault because he or she should not have gone to the bank that day, Dickens said.
"That's like saying if you would have stayed at home, I wouldn't have killed you," he said.
And when Dickens urged the jury to think of the victim, Marceaux interrupted him.
"I do, too, (think about Lopez-Perez) every night before I go to bed," Marceaux said. "She is in my prayers."
Judge Jack Marr instructed the jury to disregard the comment.
Although he was initially subpoenaed by the state, John Thomas Courmier Jr. testified last for the defense. Marceaux volunteered to tow Courmier's broken-down pickup from Corpus Christi to Louisiana. Courmier, a longtime friend, was tired and frustrated because Marceaux kept insisting they stop to check the bolts, quadrupling the drive time. He described the tractor-trailer as a flatbed that allowed them to see more of the road whether it completed the turn or not.
"The first thing I saw (of the bus) was the greyhound dog (emblem), and then glass shattered," Courmier said.