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Driver charged in fatal church bus crash; police urge compliance

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The driver of a church bus involved in a fatal crash that killed a six-year old boy and injured 10 others – including himself – has been charged with reckless homicide and driving on a suspended license.

Court records state that the driver, Charles Goodman, told authorities he feel asleep behind the wheel and when he woke up, he was too close to avoid striking a tree. The crash, which happened Tuesday along Interstate 70 near Greenfield, backed up traffic for miles and sent emergency crews transporting the 10 patients to three different area hospitals. Members of St. Jude Deliverance Church in Gary, Ind. were on their way to worship convention in Ohio when the crash occurred. Six-year old Jacob Williams was killed.

A warrant has also been issued for Goodman’s arrest.

“It’s a tragedy when a young life like that is not allowed to have his time,” said Hancock County Prosecutor Brent Eaton.

Goodman, 53, who court documents list as an Illinois resident, suffered a broken arm and a fractured jaw during the crash. Eaton said according the evidence, Goodman hit two trees before the bus flipped and caught on fire.

“That reckless manner which he operated the vehicle was what caused the death of the young man here,” he said.

Another witness, Cecil Rollins, told investigators he “thought something was off with the driver from the time he got on the bus stating that he never seemed focused.”

The documents state that a blood draw was taken from Goodman. It was sent to State of Indiana Toxicology Lab. When asked if the results could lead to more charges Eaton responded, “If we are to receive more evidence than that may potentially change the manner or the nature of the charges we have and it could include additional charges.”

According to court records, the bus is registered to Bishop Lois Hill. Hill told investigators that she believed the bus had suspension issues on the way down from Gary and that just before the crash it appeared as though the driver was trying to correct the steering. The bus was inspected by a commercial vehicle inspector on Wednesday who determined that the steering appeared to be a “non-issue,” according to the court records. Inspector Fred Bunzendahl also stated the front suspension appeared to be in “good shape.”

Hill told state police investigators that Goodman was a friend of hers and used to be a member of the church.

During a brief interview with reporters Wednesday, Hill admitted that the Ford F-450 bus was registered in her name, but denied knowing that Goodman’s license was suspended.

“Well that’s the state police report, I have nothing to say about that because that was not indicated to me,” Hill told reporters. “Keep us in your prayers.”

Indiana State Police contend because the church bus was traveling out of state, it should have been registered with the U.S. Department of Transporation.

When asked about this, Hill responded: “It’s all legal. It’s registered. That’s why I want my paperwork. It’s legal.”

Duane DeBruyne, a spokesman for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, told I-Team 8 that a USDOT Number “is required of a Private Motor Carrier of Passengers prior to conducting interstate travel.”

Bishop Hill did respond to an email Thursday seeking a response.Federal regulations loose 

Federal safety regulations that govern passengers vehicles that can carry up to 15 passengers are somewhat lax for churches, civil organizations or other groups considered to be “non-business,” according to an analysis by I-Team 8.

So-called Non-business Private Motor Carrier Passenger vehicles are required to have drivers with valid licenses. But there are several exemptions:

  • Operators don’t have to be 21 years old.
  • Operators don’t have to disclose violations.
  • Operators don’t have to pass a road test.
  • Operators are not subject to safety audits.
  • Operators do not have to disclose information about the background, character and driving records of the drivers.
  • Operators do not have to keep maintenance records or travel logs.

Sgt. Ty Utterback, a commercial vehicle inspector with Indiana State Police, said this week’s fatal crash should be a “wake-up call” to churches who have not registered their buses.

“This is the tough way… this is not the best way to find out if you are in compliance or not. You don’t want to find out this way,” Utterback said, referring to the fatal crash. “The right people in the right place (asking) the right questions might have kept this guy from driving.”

Indiana State Police have posted a link to regulations required by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration here.