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Driver lethargic, stumbling and disoriented after deadly school bus stop crash: PBSO

Students hit at bus stop in Royal Palm Beach on March 22, 2022. (WPEC)
Students hit at bus stop in Royal Palm Beach on March 22, 2022. (WPEC)
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The search warrant on the driver who hit four high school students waiting for their bus shows investigators and others at the scene of the crash thought he was impaired when they saw and spoke with him, shortly after the tragic crash.

The driver is a 57-year-old man who lives in Royal Palm Beach and he was driving a gray 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio SUV last Tuesday morning, March 22.

He was heading northbound on Crestview Boulevard approaching Cypress Lake Drive just before 7 a.m. when his car “drifted to the right, over a bicycle lane, and collided with the curb with the passenger side front tire,” according to the many pages of notes on both the driver, who has not been charged with a crime, and his car.

The lead investigator reported he was conducting an accident investigation. The roadway evidence was considered.

Then, he wrote that he “observed two medication pill bottles inside the vehicle in plain view. One bottle was on the driver side front floorboard and the other bottle was on the passenger side front seat. Both bottles contained pills and did not have labels on them.”

He also mentioned seeing a black backpack with a zipper and shoulder straps.

By then, the victims had been taken to hospitals.

The investigator met up with another investigator who arrived at the scene earlier. He wrote the other investigator told him “when he made contact with [the driver] he saw indications of impairment. He noticed [the driver] had slow movements and seemed lethargic.”

Then, the lead investigator met up with the driver, “as he was sitting on the curb next to his vehicle.”

He wrote, “[The driver] told me he was driving [his car] northbound on Crestwood Boulevard and struck a curb. He said [his car] crashed and didn't know what happened after that.”

The investigator said the driver gave consent for a blood sample. That blood sample, known as a toxicology report, will be able to tell what if anything was in the driver's system at the time of the crash.

CBS12 News reporter Andrew Lofholm asked personal injury lawyer and expert in these kinds of crashes, Carissa Kranz, about what we can take away from the search warrants.

"The fact that he submitted to a toxicology report, which means we should probably wait to pass judgment on whether or not he was under the influence," Kranz said. "He’s already guilty [of] these horrible acts of killing these children and injuring others. The motive behind that, the why behind that, we don’t know. It could be because he was under the influence. The toxicology report could lend more certainty and credibility."

The investigator wrote about the driver's demeanor, “During my interaction with [the driver], he appeared lethargic, slow and seemed dehydrated. His pupils were constricted and his mouth was dry. He had trouble keeping his eyes open and the sunlight seemed to bother him. He stumbled while standing and walking. He had trouble getting up and down losing his balance.”

Then, the investigator got Palm Beach County Fire Rescue personnel to blood draw from the driver, in the back of their rescue rig.

The investigator wrote that a deputy who said she was the first officer at the scene, and off duty at the time, contacted him.

He wrote that, “She said when she arrived she saw [the driver] in the driver seat of [the car]. [She] said her in car video system was recording when she activated her overhead lights. [She] said when she made contact with [the driver] he got out of the driver seat and stumbled around when he walked. She said she believed he was impaired and stayed with him until other units arrived.”

Then, he mentioned another investigator meeting with a witness who called 911.

She reportedly said the driver “opened the driver's door and get out. [She] said the [driver] was stumbling around and seemed disoriented. [She] thought he might have had a head injury. [She] said the paramedics got there fast and she did not want to get in the way and left the area.”

The investigator wrote that he spoke with trauma personnel at St. Mary's Medical Center, where three of the victims had been taken. “They stated [two victims] suffered grave injuries as a result of this crash and they were not expected to survive. Both had massive head trauma and were unresponsive. [The third victim] had serious injuries to his face from this crash and he was expected to survive.”

The fourth victim had been taken to Palms West Medical Center. He “had an injury to his leg and was not seriously injured.”

The next morning, March 23, “I was contacted by St. Mary's Medical Center that [Tiana Johnson, 15] was pronounced dead as a result of her injuries sustained in this crash.

It was at that point, the investigator wrote in his report, “Based on the aforementioned information, it is concluded the driver of [the car] is in violation of the Florida State Statute Driving Under the Influence Manslaughter.”

This portion of the report was written one day after the crash, on March 23. That was the day of Tiana’s death, which allowed for the mention of manslaughter. The report was released a week later, on March 30.

Chand Wazir, 15, died on Friday, three days after the crash, and after this portion of the report was written.

He was not mentioned. Neither were the two other crash victims, who are out of the hospital.

The driver reportedly consented to having his blood drawn and tested. No search warrant was necessary. The toxicology results have not been released.

The sheriff’s office actually had to apply for and receive at least three search warrants. Information on three have been released.

One was for the car itself. Specifically, “A search of the interior and exterior of the vehicle for evidence including, but not limited to: any evidence, such as personal effects of the suspect/driver of the vehicle which was used in the commission of a felony; any automotive information or parts which tend to indicate the mechanical condition of said vehicle, any paint, glass, medals, rubber, plastics, steering wheel, gear shift handle, seats, and door panels, which may be relevant to the causation of the crash, weather located on the outside or within the interior and locked interior areas of the vehicle as evidence of who was the operator/driver, and the victim who was struck and killed by this vehicle or any other violation of law.”

The second search warrant was for evidence “located within a black zipper bag with shoulder straps (backpack) located on the ground next to a gray, 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio sport utility vehicle.”

There were two lists in the paperwork. Both were dated Thursday, March 24.

The first inventory list said the investigator found:

  • a black knox vape pen with brown liquid,
  • a brown bottle with liquid inside labeled SUN MED,
  • two white bottles labeled Tren 75,
  • 161 brown capsules, and
  • a clear bottle with liquid labeled clear eyes.

The second inventory list was longer. It said the investigator found:

  • DNA swab on the passenger side A pillar,
  • DNA swab on the center windshield,
  • hair from the passenger side A pillar,
  • three brown oval pills marked FJ4,
  • 15 tan oval pills marked L339,
  • nine white oval pills marked I10,
  • half white oval pill marked I10, and
  • two brown unmarked pill bottles.

The third search warrant was for a device in the car, specifically evidence contained in that device which is called an Event Data Recorder (EDR) or Airbag Control Module (ACM). The EDR is mounted in the car's operating system and “is designed to store information about how the vehicle is operating.”

This information includes some or all of the following to include restraint system performance, driver actions, vehicle conditions, velocity changes, and additional stored information.

Investigators wrote in their application for the search warrant, “The EDR may have stored information regarding this specific crash. It is this information regarding restraint system performance, driver action(s), vehicle condition(s), velocity change(s), etc.,” they wanted.

They added, getting information from the EDR requires special equipment specifically designed to gather that information without distorting or changing the data. They planned to keep the EDR inside the car unless it needed to be removed.

The results of that search warrant have not been released.

The car was being kept at the sheriff’s office’s Vehicle Impound Facility on Gun Club Road in West Palm Beach.

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The vehicle homicide investigator wrote that he has been in law enforcement for 27 years and has testified as an expert witness in the field of traffic crash reconstruction on numerous occasions in Palm Beach County.

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