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Driver accused of causing Florida bus crash that killed 8 pleads not guilty

The driver accused of causing a deadly bus crash in Florida earlier this week has pleaded not guilty to eight counts of driving under the influence-manslaughter.

Bryan Maclean Howard entered his plea from jail by way of teleconference on Wednesday. His head was wrapped in bandages during the digital court appearance, and he was also sporting a protective gown typically given to inmates on suicide watch.

The judge denied bond, appointed a public defender and set his next court appearance for June.

Howard is accused of sideswiping a bus with his truck on Tuesday, causing it to flip over. Eight people, all of them Mexican farmworkers, were killed and at least 40 others were left injured. He told investigators he left his parent’s house that morning around 6:30 a.m. to drive to a methadone clinic in Ocala, where he was supposed to undergo treatment for a chipped vertebrae in his back. He added that he was also driving extra carefully because he’d just crashed his mother’s car three days earlier, the arrest report said.

Howard was traveling east on SR-40 when his pickup truck allegedly drifted to the center of the road, then struck the bus, which crashed through a fence and into a tree before overturning. It had been carrying 53 farmworkers to a Cannon Farms watermelon field about 80 northwest of Orlando.

“Thank you to all who have reached out and offered condolences, help and prayers! We are going to remain closed through tomorrow and we let everyone know our plan as far as when we will be back at the barn tomorrow afternoon,” the farm wrote on its Facebook page Tuesday. “Thank you so much for understanding.”

Six of the deceased victims range in age from 20 to 46, according to the arrest report. They were identified as Jose Heriberto Fraga Acosta, 27; Isaias Miranda Pascal, 21; Manuel Perez Rios, 46; Cristian Salazar Villeda, 24; Alfredo Tovar Sanchez, 20; and Evarado Ventura Hernandez, 30. Two other deceased victims were identified only as Hispanic males.

Alicia Bárcena, Mexico’s foreign relations secretary, said via the social media platform X late Tuesday that all eight people killed were in the U.S. legally on H-2A farmworker visas.

Howard also told investigators he was hanging out with a friend who had a medical marijuana card Monday night and smoked marijuana oil with him. Before Howard went to bed, he said he also took some prescription medications.

With News Wire Services


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