Validity of immigrant’s license key to trial in deadly Clark County school bus crash

Opening statements presented in case of minivan driver accused in Northwestern crash.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

A lawyer for the man driving a minivan that struck a Northwestern school bus, killing one child and injuring dozens more, told a panel of jurors in opening statements Tuesday the sun was in her client’s eyes, causing him to cross the center line.

Hermanio Joseph, 36, a Haitian immigrant, faces first-degree felony involuntary manslaughter and fourth-degree felony vehicular homicide charges.

Lawyer Cathy Weithman emphasized to jurors the main element of the case is 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.

Assistant Clark County Prosecutor Kevin Miller told jurors when bus driver Alfred “Gene” Collier saw the minivan crossing the center line, he attempted to drive onto the shoulder to avoid it, but the van struck the bus, slid down the side of it, hitting the rear tire and breaking the axle. The bus flipped on its top, and Aiden Clark, an 11-year-old sixth grader, was ejected and crushed. Another student was pinned by the bus but survived her serious injuries.

“This crash could have easily been avoided, but due to the defendant’s negligence, Aiden Clark was killed,” Miller told jurors.

Miller said that Joseph’s driver’s license was invalid.

Weithman said the defense does not disagree that Joseph was involved in the accident. She said that with the curve of the road and the sun in his eyes, Joseph went left over the center of the road.

Investigators said Joseph was driving a 2010 Honda Odyssey about 8:15 a.m. Aug. 22 in the 4100 block of Troy Road (Ohio 41) at Lawrenceville when his minivan went left of the center line into the path of an oncoming school bus with 52 students and the driver aboard.

The bus driver attempted to avoid the Honda by driving onto the shoulder, but the bus still collided with the minivan. The bus and van went off the side of the road, with the bus rolling over.

Joseph presented to law enforcement a driver’s license from Mexico, which prosecutors said was invalid due to his immigration status. Joseph also had an Ohio identification card.

Lawyers Terry Hart and Weithman previously filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing the crime of driving without a valid license is a minor misdemeanor. Clark County Common Pleas Court Judge Douglas Rastatter denied the motion, allowing the case to be presented to the jury.

Prosecutors began their case after opening statements, including showing footage from the school bus camera and a body-worn camera on German Twp. Police Chief Mike Stitzel.

The crash occurred on the first day of school for Northwestern students.

Springfield has seen an influx of approximately 10,000 Haitian immigrants in roughly the last five years.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

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