Judge declares mistrial in deadly 2014 bus crash trial

Update:January 19, 2017 - 10 a.m.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- A Leon County judge has declared a mistrial in the DUI manslaughter trial of Sarah Walker.

The judge had blocked the state from introducing the results of Walker's blood alcohol test because the lab analyst who conducted the testing was not in court to personally testify about the results.

So prosecutors had FDLE re-run Walker's blood sample overnight and had a new analyst prepared to testify about them Thursday morning.

The newly run sample listed a blood alcohol level of .09

The defense argued it deserved time now to evaluate the results and depose the new analyst.

The judge declared a mistrial and set a case management date of March 2nd.

Attorneys on both sides refused to comment on the mistrial.

Walker was on trial for a deadly crash in April 2014 that killed bus driver William "Rusty" Fowler. He was driving the Florida High track team home from a meet in Jacksonville. 33 students and coaches were on the bus at the time, but no one else was seriously hurt.


By: Julie Montanaro
January 18, 2017

A woman accused of driving drunk and killing the bus driver of a high school track team is now on trial.

Sarah Walker faces charges of DUI manslaughter in the death of William "Rusty" Fowler.

The crash sent high school students flying inside that bus and Fowler was pronounced dead behind the wheel.

It happened in April 2014 at the corner of Apalachee Parkway and Conner Boulevard.

The biggest questions today? Are the results of Sarah Walker's blood alcohol test admissible? And could the state go forward without them?

Cecil Robinson described the moments before a car crashed into their bus and the moments after.

"I just remember seeing her headlights and hearing him (the bus driver) say "Oh shoot!" Robinson said.

"Once we were hit, I kind of went in the air and the bus spun to the right and that's when we struck a pole," Robinson testified Wednesday morning.

The Florida High track team was coming home from a meet in Jacksonville. Sarah Walker is accused of driving drunk, plowing into the bus and killing the driver William "Rusty" Fowler.

Robinson - and soon his mom - would find themselves face to face with Walker in the ambulance.

"She just kept uttering the same things over and over and her eyes were very glassy at the time," Robinson said.

"She said I'm sorry ma'am, but I'm the one who hit your baby," his mother Terri Robinson testified.

Deputy Javier Vides spoke with Walker on scene that night. "She said she didn't see the bus and that she had been to a bar earlier in the night," Vides recalled.

Yet Sarah Walker's attorney pointed out it was raining hard that night and argued a blood alcohol test registering .099 was inadmissible because the lab tech who performed it wasn't there to testify.

The judge ruled late Wednesday that Walker's BAC results will not be admitted as evidence unless the lab analyst can personally testify about them or the blood sample can be retested before the state rests its case.

Defense attorney Aaron Wayt told the jury that witnesses on scene couldn't prove Walker was impaired. He says there is too much conflicting testimony.

"I don't believe the evidence will be clear," Wayt said in his opening statements to the jury.

Several of the witnesses on scene said Walker's eyes were glassy and at least one said her balance was off, but Wayt repeatedly asked if Walker smelled like alcohol.

"You didn't smell any odor of alcohol while you were talking to Ms. Walker, is that fair to say?" Wayt asked the first officer on scene.

"I did not," Tallahassee Police Officer Brent Edwards said.

Fowler's family filled the first two rows in courtroom 3D. Walker's family did the same across the aisle.

Testimony in Walker's DUI manslaughter trial will continue Thursday.


Update: 1 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- Two members of the Florida High track team - and one of their coaches - took the stand to testify about the crash that killed their bus driver back in April 2014.

Cecil Robinson was a senior then. He described seeing "headlights coming" and heard driver William Fowler say "Oh shoot!" just before the crash.

Robinson described people "flying in the air" and landing on top of each other. He says the team piled out the back door of the bus and he didn't yet know the driver was dead.

Robinson testified he was in the ambulance with Sarah Walker after the crash as EMTs checked out the knot on his head.

He said Walker's eyes were glassy and she kept repeating things, but he did not smell alcohol. He testified that Walker told his mother, "I'm sorry but I'm the one who hit your babies."

Robinson's mother Terri Robinson said when she got to the scene she saw a lot of "frantic kids" and a bus whose front had been pushed through the middle.

She too said Walker apologized for hitting the bus. She described Walker as "fidgeting" and her eyes as "glossy" but testified Walker did not smell like alcohol.

Another track team member Ako Platt testified as well as a coach, April McGriff.

Defense attorney Aaron Wayt asked each of them if it was raining the night of the crash and all of the witnesses on the bus said yes.

Tallahassee Police Officer Brent Edwards was the first officer on scene. When he got there, he testified, the bus "was smoking and people were running out of the back."

He testified Sarah Walker's eyes were "glassy" and she had some "balance issues."

LCSO Deputy Javier Vides was in the ambulance with Walker that night. He says Walker told him she did not see the bus and had been at a bar "earlier in the night."

Vides described Walker's eyes as "watery" and "glossy."

Witness accounts of Walker's appearance on scene that night may be especially critical in this DUI manslaughter case, because the judge has yet to admit the results of Walker's blood alcohol test.

Defense attorney Aaron Wayt argued - citing a Florida Supreme Court case - that the test results can't be admitted as evidence without the accompanying testimony of the lab tech who processed them.

The judge agreed and suggested the state either get the tech in court to testify or have the sample re-tested.

Prosecutor Georgia Cappleman is reviewing her options in hopes of having the BAC results admitted. She calls them 'critical' to the case.


Update: 12 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- A Tallahassee woman is now on trial for DUI manslaughter in a deadly crash.

Sarah Walker is accused of driving drunk when she crashed into a school bus carrying the Florida High track team in April 2014.

Prosecutors claim Walker was drunk when she collided with the bus - forcing it off the road and into a traffic pole.

The bus driver, 65 year old William Fowler, died "behind the wheel" of a severed spine and aorta.

Walker "jeopardized the kids on the bus and cost Mr. Fowler his life," prosecutor Georgia Cappleman said.

Yet the state may have a tough time proving that Walker was drunk.

The defense argued that blood alcohol tests in this case should not be admitted as evidence unless the actual lab tech can testify to the results. And based on case law, the judge agreed.

"I got ambushed this morning," prosecutor Georgia Cappleman told the judge.

She says she will try to get the tech to court to testify or may have Walker's blood retested, but otherwise would have to go forward with the case without the BAC test results.

Walker's attorney claims the evidence "isn't clear" and witnesses on scene have conflicting accounts of whether Walker seemed impaired.

He pointed out that it was raining that night and suggested one of the vehicles may have hydroplaned.


By: Julie Montanaro
January 17, 2017

A woman accused of driving drunk and crashing into a bus carrying the Florida High track team will stand trial starting Wednesday.

Sarah Walker is facing DUI manslaughter charges in the death of the bus driver, 65 year old William Fowler.

Walker is accused of crashing into the bus at the corner of Apalachee Parkway and Conner Boulevard in April 2014. The bus then ran off of the road and hit a traffic pole. Fowler died at the scene.

There were 33 people on the bus. They were returning from a track meet in Jacksonville. Four suffered minor injuries.

Jury selection in Walker's trial was held Monday and testimony is expected to begin Wednesday morning.



 

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