This article has been updated to clarify an excerpt from the NTSB report.
The truck driver from Saginaw who crashed into a Texas college softball team’s bus last year, killing four players, was likely high on synthetic drugs, the National Transportation Safety Board reported Tuesday.
At a hearing in Washington, the NTSB voted 4-0 in favor of their investigators’ findings on the cause of the crash on Sept. 26, 2014, near Davis, Okla.
“The truck driver’s use of synthetic cannabinoids (SC) was identified as a safety issue based on his toxicology results, his lack of corrective action as he departed the roadway and his history of drug use,” the report said.
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NTSB investigators previously reported that driver Russell Staley’s truck missed a right-hand curve on northbound Interstate 35, traveled across a grassy median, hit the southbound bus and continued off the roadway where it crashed into a tree.
Fifteen players from the North Central Texas College softball team and one coach were on the bus.
Authorities found a small pipe containing residue of synthetic marijuana in the truck after the crash. And NTSB investigators said Staley had a history of using synthetic drugs and made no effort to brake or swerve as his truck drifted across a median and into the oncoming bus.
But NTSB medical officer Dr. Nick Webster said a blood test couldn’t confirm the presence of the drug in Staley’s system.
“Testing is extremely difficult and complex,” Webster said. “Science does not know how long the substance remains in the blood or what it breaks down to.”
Testing is extremely difficult and complex. Science does not know how long the substance remains in the blood or what it breaks down to.
NTSB medical officer Dr. Nick Webster
Killed in the crash were Meagan Richardson of Wylie; Katelynn Woodlee of Windom; Jaiden Pelton of Telephone; and Brooke Deckard of Scurry.
The team was returning to Gainesville from a scrimmage in Bethany, Okla.
NTSB investigators determined that none of the bus passengers was wearing seat belts, which contributed to the severity of the injuries, and recommended mandatory seat belt laws for all vehicles.
The NTSB also recommended stricter requirements for medium-sized passenger buses, including stronger roofs, windows and sidewall protections.
NTSB officials said research into the prevalence of commercial motor vehicle driver use of synthetic cannabinoids is needed, and plan should be developed to address those drugs that are not covered under current drug-testing regulations.
Staley has been charged with four counts of first-degree manslaughter. A preliminary court hearing is scheduled for February in Murray County, Okla.
This report includes material from The Associated Press.