A trial date has been set for the trucker accused of crashing into a school bus near Arlington in May.
Wayne Murphy, 42, has been held in Columbia County jail since his arrest following a May 23 wreck on Interstate 39/90/94 that left more than two dozen people injured. He will be tried by a jury in April.
Murphy is charged with 46 crimes, including 36 misdemeanor charges of causing injury while operating under the influence with recklessness modifiers, plus five felony charges of injury by intoxicated use of a vehicle. He also faces five felony charges of second-degree reckless injury.
He could spend more than 100 years in prison if convicted on the felony charges alone.
The five injury by intoxicated use and the five second-degree reckless injury allegations stem from five school children who sustained serious injury during the crash. Two of those victims – both minors – were airlifted to area hospitals. Some were transported by ambulance.
Among the victims was a 15-year-old-girl who was knocked unconscious, placed on a ventilator and flown to Madison. Other injuries required surgery and blood transfusions.
The school bus carried children headed from Milwaukee to Wisconsin Dells for an end-of-the-year fieldtrip. The bus was parked on the interstate shoulder due to mechanical issues when Murphy allegedly struck it.
More than 30 people were aboard the bus, most of them middle school children. Police said they received reports of an erratically driving semi-truck in the minutes before the crash. The erratic truck’s description matched Murphy’s rig.
During a Nov. 6 status conference, Columbia Circuit Court Judge Troy Cross set Murphy’s trial date for April 8. The jury proceedings are expected to last a week.
During the hearing Nov. 6, Assistant Attorney General Tara Jenswold said she is still awaiting a crash reconstruction report from the Wisconsin State Patrol.
Cross imposed a Jan. 4 deadline for Jenswold to submit the reconstruction report and signed a scheduling order. Murphy’s lawyer, Public Defender Ron Benavides, has until Feb. 4 to offer rebuttals.
Benavides has argued that Murphy didn’t act recklessly, which the charges imply. According to Benavides, and supported by earlier testimony from a State Patrol investigator, Murphy swerved to avoid crashing into the bus.
Benavides said that proves Murphy attempted to mitigate damage and didn’t act with recklessness.
“Mr. Murphy (was) taking action to avoid the collision, which goes against … the concept of recklessness,” Benavides said in August. “…He also believes his action to avoid the collision is a significant action.”
Prosecutors responded at the time by saying the charges of reckless injury were appropriately classified in the second degree instead of the first degree. The two degrees carry slightly different definitions.
Wisconsin statute classifies first-degree reckless injury as showing “utter disregard for human life.” The second degree is defined as “whoever recklessly causes great bodily harm to another human being…”
Murphy’s lawyer also argued against the charges of intoxication last summer.
Following the crash, prescription pill bottles – including Alprazolam, a generic brand of Xanax – were found in the cab of Murphy’s truck. Police counted the number of pills in the Alprazolam bottle and determined Murphy may have been ingesting about two-times his prescribed daily dosage.
According to authorities, Murphy then failed a field sobriety test at the crash scene. Traces of Alprazolam and opiates were subsequently found in his bloodstream. But Benavides said his client may have lost or given away the missing pills, and not taken them himself.
Murphy – whose address is listed in Indianapolis – remains in custody on a $35,000 bond. He appeared in court shackled and wearing an orange inmate jumpsuit.
He is next due in court Feb. 13 for a pre-trial motion hearing.