The Law Blog of Oklahoma

DA Intends to Present Evidence of Past Synthetic Drug Use in Fatal Bus Crash Case

Posted: Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Murray County District Attorney told a judge that he intends to present evidence of past synthetic marijuana use in the case of a truck driver accused of manslaughter in a bus accident that killed four members of a college softball team.

On September 26, 2014, the North Central Texas College softball team was traveling through the Arbuckle Mountains on the way home to Gainesville from a tournament at Southern Nazarene University in Bethany. Meanwhile, a Russ Staley, a truck driver for Quickway Transportation, Inc., was driving an empty tractor trailer north to Chandler.

The rig was traveling at 72 miles per hour when it crossed the grassy median and slammed into the bus, killing four young women, aged 18 to 20. Reports indicate that Staley did not brake until after he collided with the bus.

After the accident, Staley told investigators that he had been reaching for a canned soft drink that rolled under the seat when he lost control of his vehicle. However, investigators found a pipe with traces of synthetic marijuana residue in his truck, and a subsequent blood test showed Staley had synthetic marijuana in his system.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigation into the case said the accident was likely caused by the truck driver's failure “to control his vehicle due to incapacitation likely stemming from his use of synthetic cannabinoids.”

In June 2015, Staley was charged with four counts of first degree manslaughter. 

Now, prosecutors have filed notice that they plan to present testimony by Staley's wife and a former employer regarding Staley's past substance abuse.

The defendant's wife was concerned in 2013 about her husband's use of synthetic marijuana and contacted a medical clinic about "seizure-like behavior" he suffered when smoking K2.

That same year, his supervisor at Big Star Trucking Company noticed that Staley began coming in to work apparently under the influence of K2. He is expected to testify that Staley was red-eyed and lethargic while under the influence of the synthetic cannabinoid, and that at times, he would become combative.

Staley's behavior influenced the company to develop a no-tolerance policy against synthetic and herbal drugs, saying, "The effects on the human body are just as dangerous as the illegal controlled substances they mirror, if not more so." Employess reportedly called the new policy the "Staley policy."

A judge is expected to meet with attorneys on December 9 to set a trial date in Staley's criminal case. 

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