Driver in fatal I-80 school bus crash sentenced to 10 years

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MORRISTOWN, N.J. (AP) – The driver of a school bus who veered across Interstate 80 in New Jersey after missing an exit and crashed into a dump truck, killing a teacher and a student and injuring dozens of others, was sentenced Wednesday to 10 years in prison.

Hudy Muldrow, 79, had pleaded guilty in December to reckless vehicular homicide, assault by auto and child endangerment in connection with the May 2018 crash in Mount Olive, about 20 miles east of the Pennsylvania border.

The bus carrying students and teachers from a Paramus middle school merged onto the highway and then headed across three lanes toward a median turnaround limited to official vehicles.

The impact of the crash sheared the bus’ frame from its wheelbase. Social studies teacher Jennifer Williamson-Kennedy, 51, and fifth grade student Miranda Vargas, 10, were killed, and dozens of other children were injured.

Wednesday’s sentencing took place in a courtroom packed with the two victims’ friends and relatives, many of whom read statements to the court.

Among them were Williamson-Kennedy’s husband, who read a poem he had written to her, and Miranda’s twin sister, Madison.

Muldrow apologized in a brief statement to the court.

At his plea hearing, Muldrow acknowledged recklessly “driving the bus sideways” across three lanes after missing the exit for Waterloo Village, where the group was headed on a field trip.

Prosecutors had recommended a 10-year sentence as part of an agreement that included dismissal of 20 additional charges of assault by auto.

At the time of the crash, Muldrow had valid driving privileges, a valid commercial driver’s license and a valid school bus endorsement, according to the Motor Vehicle Commission. He had earned his commercial driver’s license in 2012 and his school bus endorsement in 2013.

The bus endorsement requires drivers to pass a background check, road test and a written test.

His regular driver’s license was suspended 14 times between 1975 and 2017, mostly for administrative reasons, such as unpaid parking tickets, according to state motor vehicle records.

Muldrow also had eight speeding violations between 1975 and 2001 and three moving violations in the 10 years leading up to the crash, for not wearing a seat belt, careless driving and making an improper turn. None of those violations caused accidents or led to suspensions, according to Motor Vehicle Commission records.

After the crash, Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law four safety bills.

One requires school bus drivers to take safety classes twice a year. The others call for complying with federal safety regulations, requiring school bus drivers over 70 to show proof of physical fitness, and making the state Department of Education notify local authorities when a driver’s license is revoked or suspended.

Joevanny Vargas, Lorena Vargas and Madison Vargas grieve as witness impact statements are read regarding the death of Miranda Vargas during the sentencing of Hudy Muldrow, Wednesday, Feb., 26, 2020, at state Superior Court in Morristown, N.J. Muldrow, 79, the driver of a school bus who veered across Interstate 80 in New Jersey after missing an exit and crashed into a dump truck, killing a teacher and a student and injuring dozens of others, was sentenced to 10 years in state prison. (Ed Murray/NJ Advance Media via AP, Pool)
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