Driver charged in fatal Northern California casino bus crash
WILLIAMS ” The driver in a Northern California bus crash that killed 11 people has been charged with vehicular manslaughter, the Colusa County District Attorney’s Office said Wednesday.
District Attorney John Poyner said Quintin Watts, of Stockton, could face nearly 20 years in prison if he is convicted on the 11 counts of manslaughter.
Police say Watts, 52, had not slept in more than 40 hours and dozed off at the wheel last October while driving his passengers to the Colusa Casino Resort. The bus owner, Daniel Cobb, tried to grab the wheel at the last minute as the coach drifted off the rural road at speeds estimated at 55 to 70 mph. Watts was thrown from the bus and was one of more than 30 injured; Cobb was killed.
“He knew he was tired and he could have pulled over to rest, but he didn’t,” Poyner told the Marysville Appeal-Democrat. “Probably most people have driven their vehicles tired, but it’s different when you’re responsible for 40 or 50 passengers.”
“Watts himself believes that he simply fell asleep due to fatigue, caused by lack of sleep,” Poyner said. “It’s my opinion that Mr. Watts should never have been given a commercial license.”
Watts told his family that he had been training to drive a bus, and the day of the crash was his first one behind the wheel.
The prosecutor met with crash victims and their families Monday in Sacramento after the burial of the 11th victim, who had been on life support. Many of the 42 passengers on the bus were Laotian seniors.
The district attorney’s office said Wednesday that Watts does not yet have an attorney, and no court date has been set.
Watts has been in jail since May 7 for violating the special conditions of his parole that stemmed from a six months prison stint for possession of a firearm by an ex-felon, Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Terry Thornton said Wednesday.
He also had previous convictions for receiving stolen property, check fraud, credit card theft, possession of marijuana for sale and possession of a destructive device. Toxicology reports released in October showed Watts was not drunk or on drugs when the bus crashed.
The accident was the first in a recent series of bus crashes in California.
Five people died and dozens were injured in Soledad when their tour bus flipped in April. Also in April, a bus crash near Truckee killed one passenger and injured 24 others who were on their way to work at the Resort at Squaw Creek. And on May 2, a tour bus returning to Colton in Southern California from a trip to San Diego’s Cinco de Mayo festival crashed, injuring all 25 people aboard.
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