MORRISTOWN, N.J. — A former school bus driver who was criminally charged in a May 2018 crash that killed a student and a teacher and injured over 40 passengers was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Wednesday.
As School Bus Fleet previously reported, Hudy Muldrow Sr., age 77 at the time of the crash, was charged with two counts of reckless vehicular homicide/death by auto for his involvement in the May 17 crash in Mount Olive Township, N.J. He was driving one of three school buses on the highway, headed to Waterloo Village for a field trip. The collision between the bus and a dump truck ripped the undercarriage of the bus away from the body. A student, Miranda Vargas, and teacher, identified as Jennifer Williamson by NBC News, were killed, and the other 43 people on the bus were hospitalized.
Muldrow, who drove for Paramus Public Schools, allegedly attempted to cross lanes of traffic to get to an official-use-only access point to make a U-turn after missing an exit and collided with the truck, which was traveling in one of those lanes. As a result, the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office alleged that Muldrow’s reckless operation of a school bus caused the deaths of a teacher and a student aboard the bus, and caused injuries to 40 additional bus passengers, plus the driver of a dump truck.
Muldrow was indicted in connection with the crash in April 2019, as SBF previously reported, on two counts of reckless vehicular homicide and 25 counts of assault by auto.
Muldrow also had his driver’s license suspended and was issued driving violations, each more than a dozen times.
On Dec. 23, Muldrow pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree reckless vehicular homicide, one count of third-degree endangering the welfare of children, five counts of fourth-degree assault by auto, and one count of disorderly persons assault by auto, according to a news release from the Prosecutor Frederic M. Knapp at the Prosecutor’s Office.
NBC New York reported in December that prosecutors had recommended a 10-year sentence as part of a plea deal that included the dismissal of 20 additional charges of assault by auto.
A state Superior Court judge sentenced Muldrow to an aggregate term of 10 years in state prison, according to the Prosecutor’s Office. The first five years of the sentence are subject to the parole ineligibility provisions of the state’s No Early Release Act.
“The pain and suffering caused by this defendant are immeasurable and will continue forever. The mass casualties and carnage caused by his criminal acts required the New Jersey state prison sentence imposed by the court today,” Knapp said. “We sincerely hope that the courageous surviving victims, mostly children, and their families will be able to accept this small measure of closure and solace for their collective and individual loss.”
Although the sentence brings an end to criminal proceedings against Muldrow, he still faces more than a dozen civil lawsuits filed by parents and teachers, CBS New York reports.
The fatal crash spurred several pieces of legislation intending to increase driver oversight and bolster school bus safety. Most recently, family members of Miranda Vargas, the student killed in the crash, went door-to-door on Capitol Hill with U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer to gather support for Miranda’s Law and the SECURES Act.
Miranda’s Law, named for Miranda Vargas, requires real-time background checks, so that when a school bus driver has any driving infraction beyond a parking ticket, the school district or school bus company will receive an alert about that infraction from the U.S. Department of Transportation within 24 hours. As SBF previously reported, the bill was introduced in June 2018, with the intention of bolstering the proposed SECURES Act.
The SECURES Act requires seat belts on all school buses regardless of gross vehicle weight rating, makes lap-shoulder seat belts the national standard, and encourages innovative approaches to make sure students wear the seat belts while on school buses.
The most recent action on both bills was a referral to the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit on May 17, 2019, according to the U.S. Congress website.
In February 2019, Gov. Phil Murphy signed three bills into law: one that appropriates $250,000 for a required study of safety of school bus passengers in emergency situations; another that requires school district transportation supervisors with less than 11 years of experience to take a certification course; and another requiring the suspension of a bus driver’s school bus endorsement for 90 days if the driver is convicted of three or more motor vehicle moving violations in a three-year period.
Murphy signed four other school bus safety bills into law in December 2018. Those laws address federal regulations compliance, proof of physical fitness, regular safety training, and communication about drivers with suspended or revoked licenses.
Additionally, in August 2018, New Jersey changed its law on seat belts, requiring lap-shoulder belts instead of lap belts, as previously required, on all school buses.