Judge: ‘We can’t fix this.’ Minivan driver in fatal Clark County school bus crash sentenced to prison

Hermanio Joseph’s vehicle struck a Northwestern elementary bus that overturned on the first day of school.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

The driver of a minivan that went across the center line and struck a Northwestern Elementary School bus, killing one student and injuring dozens, was sentenced to a prison term of nine to 13.5 years.

Spectators packed the Clark County Common Pleas courtroom on an emotional Tuesday morning for the sentencing of Hermanio Joseph, 36, a Haitian immigrant who did not have a valid driver’s license when he crossed over the center line into the oncoming lane on state Route 41, striking a Northwestern school bus with his 2010 Honda Odyssey. The bus flipped on its top in the Aug. 22 crash.

Aiden Clark, 11, died and about two dozen other students were injured on the bus that had 52 children aboard. It was the first day of school.

Joseph was convicted May 1 of first-degree felony involuntary manslaughter and fourth-degree felony vehicular homicide.

Judge Douglas Rastatter sentenced Joseph to an indefinite term of nine to 13.5 years in prison with two to five years of post-release control after serving the time. The presumption is Joseph will serve nine years, but it will be revisited based on behavior and other factors.

Some degree of mercy

Rastatter said in handing down his sentence, he took into account Joseph’s lack of extreme caution, his substantial negligence, the extensive harm he caused and the nature of the justice system to consider the voices of those affected. He said in his analysis, he determined that Joseph deserves some degree of mercy and grace, but not much.

The judge said this is one of the most painful cases over which he had presided in his 20 years on the bench.

“We can’t fix this; I can’t fix this. What I would give to fix this,” Rastatter said.

Joseph, through an interpreter, issued a statement in which he apologized. He said he empathizes with the family, having two kids himself, one of them having been born a few days prior to the crash.

“I have a family, and I left my country to help my family,” Joseph said through an interpreter. “Instead of helping them, it’s become worse for them.”

Aiden’s brother Preston Clark said nothing Joseph says or does will change what happened, and his little brother’s death has changed him drastically.

“I had to carry my little brother in a casket,” Preston Clark said. “Life isn’t supposed to be like that.”

‘If you had just done the right thing’

Madelynn Clark said it will be painful to see her brother’s friends at school but not see Aiden. She said it hurts that Aiden won’t be at her wedding, or be able to be an uncle when she has children.

“All of this could have been avoided if you had just done the right thing,” Madelynn Clark said.

Nathan Clark, Aiden’s father, spoke about the pain the family has felt since the 11-year-old’s death and once again denounced those who have used Aiden’s name as a weapon for intolerance. After the bus crash, numerous community members spoke at Springfield City Commission meetings, expressing complaints and anger toward immigrants.

Rastatter during his sentencing and Clark County Prosecutor Dan Driscoll, addressing reporters after the hearing, echoed this sentiment.

Aiden’s father said in the nine months since he and wife Danielle Clark lost their son, and Preston and Madelynn Clark lost their younger brother, the family has felt incomplete.

“It takes nine months to gradually grow and create the perfect human being,” Nathan Clark said. “It only took seconds to take his life away on Aug. 22, 2023, when Mr. Joseph recklessly smashed into a Northwestern school bus, endangering the lives of 52 innocent children and one amazing bus driver.”

The father said Aiden loved to snuggle and play baseball, and his goal was to sell vegetables at the farmer’s market. He said Aiden no longer gets to do those things, or to bake zucchini bread with his mother.

“We hate that we won’t be able to help Aiden get ready for his bright future,” Nathan Clark said.

Credit: Littleton & Rue Funeral Home

Credit: Littleton & Rue Funeral Home

‘The poster of the border security crisis’

Aiden’s father emphatically condemned those who have used the family’s tragedy for political gain or to justify their intolerance. He said Joseph’s and Aiden’s faces are on “the poster of the border security crisis,” which neither of them deserve, though he said Joseph deserves “heavy consequences” for his actions.

“We hate that across this county there is hate fueled by the worst moment of our lives. Our tragedy,” Nathan Clark said. “This hatred is present in this county, this city, this community. Mr. Joseph didn’t start this, but he dumped a lot of fuel on the fire that has consumed many people.”

Despite Joseph’s actions, Nathan Clark said the family does not hate Joseph.

“We hate that you took our life, but we don’t know you, so Mr. Joseph, we can’t hate you,” Nathan Clark said.

According to testimony from crash reconstruction expert Ohio State Highway Patrol Sgt. Jeremiah Smith, as the Honda crossed into the lane of the bus, Northwestern driver Alfred “Gene” Collier, moved the bus to the shoulder on the asphalt. The Honda continued to cross over and struck the side of the bus, then it traveled south across the roadway, coming to rest in a field.

During the trial, Joseph testified he has a Mexican driver’s license and Ohio ID card, but no Ohio driver’s license.

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

‘Instead of spreading hate, spread some love.’

Following the sentencing, Driscoll said he hopes those impacted can begin the healing process, and the Clark family’s statement against hatred toward the Haitian community takes hold and inspires the “silent majority” who don’t believe in this rhetoric to speak up. He said the case was “without a doubt” the hardest of his career.

“I would ask people today: instead of spreading hate, spread some love. We could use it,” Driscoll said.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

About the Author