Guilty verdicts reached in trial of minivan driver accused in fatal school bus crash

Hermanio Joseph testified in his defense on Wednesday.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Jurors took about one hour Wednesday to deliberate before reaching guilty verdicts in the trial of a minivan driver who hit a school bus, killing one student and injuring dozens of others.

Hermanio Joseph, 36, testified Wednesday morning in his defense. In the early afternoon, after a lunch break, the judge presented jurors with instructions, and the 12-person panel deliberated from about 2 to 3 p.m. before alerting officials to the verdict.

Joseph, an immigrant from Haiti, had been indicted on first-degree felony involuntary manslaughter and fourth-degree felony vehicular homicide charges. Jurors found him guilty on both counts.

The charges came after an Aug. 22 crash involving Joseph’s 2010 Honda Odyssey that went left of center on state Route 41, striking a Northwestern school bus. One student, Aiden Clark, 11, died after he was ejected from the bus, which overturned.

It was the first day of school for Northwestern Elementary School students and 52 elementary school students and a driver were aboard the bus.

Clark County Common Pleas Court Judge Douglas Rastatter, who earlier Wednesday ruled against a defense motion to dismiss the case after prosecutors rested their case, set sentencing for 10 a.m. May 21. Rastatter ordered Joseph held without bond until sentencing.

Joseph’s attorney Terry Hart said after the verdict he typically respects a jury’s decision, but “I was disappointed,” and intends to appeal the convictions.

Joseph testified Wednesday he did not have an Ohio driver’s license and the sun in his eyes caused the crash.

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Joseph’s attorney, Cathy Weithman, had argued to jurors the main element of the case was whether Joseph’s license was valid: an invalid license elevates his vehicular homicide charge to a felony, which gives way to the involuntary manslaughter charge, which he can be charged with if he caused a death while committing a felony.

Joseph testified through an interpreter that he has a Mexican driver’s license and Ohio ID card, but no Ohio driver’s license.

A prosecution witness, Sydney King, Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles policy advisor, testified Tuesday that Joseph did not have an Ohio driver’s license, but he did have a state identification card. She said an Ohio ID requires a person to establish residency in the state.

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Joseph testified he has temporary protected status and did not get an Ohio driver’s license because he did not have the necessary documents.

The man said he was born in Haiti and has a spouse and four children. He said he left Haiti in 2014, traveling to Brazil, then Chile, then to Mexico in 2022, where he obtained a Mexican driver’s license. Joseph said he arrived in Texas, flew to Ohio and settled in Springfield, where he has resided for one year and five days.

The Honda Odyssey is registered to Joseph and is insured, he testified. He said that day, he was driving east and saw the school bus, but when he hit a curve on the road, he was blinded by the sun despite the car’s sun visor being down.

Joseph testified he attempted to apply the brakes prior to the crash. He said through an interpreter he did not have the chance to “make the right decision” and avoid the crash.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Clark County Prosecutor Dan Driscoll

and Assistant Prosecutor Kevin Miller told jurors Joseph violated the law and whether or not the sun was in his eyes does not matter.

“Mr. Joseph was breaking the law when he operated a motor vehicle without a valid license,” Driscoll said. “Mr. Joseph was breaking the law when he was traveling in excess of the posted speed limit. You know Mr. Joseph broke the law when he crossed over the center line. You know it; this isn’t just an accident. These are the actions of this man.”

Driscoll said Joseph got a driver’s license soon after moving to Mexico but did not do the same when he moved to Ohio.

“He didn’t have a valid license and he tells you on the stand why ...” Driscoll said. “He had no license but he disregarded that. He drove anyways.”

Northwestern families who attended the trial were escorted out of the courtroom before others after the verdicts were read. Some family members could be seen crying.

Before being led back to the Clark County Jail, Joseph shook the hands of his interpreters and thanked them for their help during the trial. He also put his hand on the arm of Hart, one of his attorneys.

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