DA files immunity request for Union Pacific employees in fatal Athens ISD bus crash

DA files immunity request for Union Pacific employees in fatal Athens ISD bus crash
John Stevens, 78, of Mabank, was in court for a pretrial hearing Wednesday, March 4, 2020. He's charged with injury to a child causing serious bodily injury and manslaughter/criminally negligent homicide stemming from a 2019 fatal Athens ISD school wreck involving a train. (Arthur Clayborn/KLTV Photojournalist) (Source: Arthur Clayborn/KLTV)

ATHENS, Texas (KLTV) - The district attorney in the case of the former Athens ISD school bus driver charged in a fatal bus crash is requesting immunity for the conductor and engineer involved in the collision.

That immunity request could determine whether the attorneys for John Stevens, 78, of Mabank, will be allowed to depose the two Union Pacific employees.

Source: KLTV Staff
Source: KLTV Staff (Source: KLTV Staff)

“The court has taken the immunity request under advisement to consider a slew of factors, including whether or not the civil defense attorney for Union Pacific will accept that immunity and allow us to actually depose his clients," Weiner said. “We had previously requested to actually just to speak to them because they are eyewitnesses obviously to an alleged offense."

The crash happened on Jan. 25, 2019, at the crossing on Cream Level Road. The bus had stopped before the crossing and then Stevens drove onto the track directly in front of the westbound train, according to investigators.

Stevens was indicted in July 2019 on two charges of injury to a child causing serious bodily injury and manslaughter/criminally negligent homicide. He’s pleaded not guilty to both charges.

Christopher Bonilla, 13, was killed in the crash, and Joselyne Torres, 9, was injured.

Stevens’ defense wants to depose those employees because they say information from the train’s black box shows it was speeding at the time of the crash.

That potential criminal liability has been a roadblock in the case. The conductor and engineer are also involved in a civil case. Their attorney in that case has denied Stevens’ attorneys’ request to talk to them based on the possibility they could be criminally charged, according to Weiner.

“Based on potential criminal liability (the civil attorney) wanted to retain criminal defense council for the engineer and conductor as well,” Weiner said.

This morning’s filing by the DA says “the state is unopposed to us deposing the two Union Pacific employees," according to Weiner. "However, the state has, the DA himself, has requested immunity for the Union Pacific employees.

Another pretrial hearing is set for April 8.

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