Truck driver in bus crash pleads not guilty

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. -- The driver of a tractor-trailer that jackknifed and was hit by a bus carrying high school students pleaded not guilty Friday to negligence and recklessness for his role in the crash, which killed five people and injured 28.

Michael John Kozlowski, 23, of Schererville, Ind., originally faced five felony counts of homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle, 11 felony counts of reckless driving causing great bodily injury and nine misdemeanor counts of reckless driving causing injury. Prosecutors added five more counts of felony reckless driving and three more misdemeanor counts Friday, District Attorney Richard White said.

Eau Claire County Circuit Judge William Gabler ruled that prosecutors presented sufficient evidence during a 21⁄2-hour; preliminary hearing Friday to justify the charges for the Oct. 16 crash.

The judge set a status conference for March 22. No trial date was set.

According to the criminal complaint, Kozlowski stayed out late partying in Indiana and eventually fell asleep at the wheel of his semi-truck hauling grocery products to the Twin Cities, triggering the crash.


Kozlowski's truck went off onto the shoulder of Interstate 94 and went out of control when he pulled back onto the highway east of Eau Claire about 2 a.m. The semi overturned and jackknifed, blocking both lanes.

The charter bus -- filled with 44 students, teachers and chaperones from Chippewa Falls High School returning from a competition in Whitewater -- plowed into the wreckage. The band director and the bus driver were among those killed.

Kozlowski told investigators that he was going to pull his semi over to go to the bathroom in the ditch, but he got too far off the shoulder into some soft ground, the complaint said.

Five witnesses -- three state troopers, a motorist and a woman who befriended Kozlowski at a tavern the night before the crash -- testified Friday, some disputing Kozlowski's version of what happened.

State Trooper Steven Prouty testified that Kozlowski's truck traveled 190 feet on the rumble strips before it went in the ditch and then came back onto the interstate. The gradual drift of the truck was consistent with a fatigued or asleep driver, Prouty said.

A motorist testified that he followed the semi for miles before it was involved in the fatal crash.

"I was concerned because the truck was pulling over to the right and hitting the rumble strips" that line Interstate 94, Lawrence Quarles said.

Kozlowski told investigators that he last drank alcohol about midnight Oct. 14 and that he got 10 hours of sleep before embarking on the 436-mile trip to the Twin Cities about 8 p.m. Oct. 15, the complaint said.


Friends who were with Kozlowski at a tavern the night before the trip indicated he stayed up until at least 5 a.m. Oct. 15, the complaint said.

Killed were band director Douglas Greenhalgh, 48; his wife, Therese, 51; and their granddaughter, Morgan Greenhalgh, 11. Also killed were driver Paul Rasmus, 78, and student teacher Branden Atherton, 24, authorities said.

Kozlowski could be sentenced to more than 100 years in prison if convicted of all the felony counts.

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