The party bus that crashed last month on Interstate 64 in York County, killing three passengers, could not go faster than 40 mph because of significant weight added through modifications to the vehicle, according to court documents.
The bus was “traveling well under the speed limit” when it was struck from behind by an oncoming tractor-trailer, according to a search warrant affidavit by Virginia State Police Sgt. Dennis Bicking. The posted speed limit in the area of the crash, near Colonial Parkway, is 70 mph, according to a Virginia Department of Transportation map.
The bus driver, Antonio L. Wiggins, told troopers the bus could not go more than 40 mph and was trying to change lanes to get out of the way of the tractor-trailer when the crash occurred, Bicking wrote in the affidavit.
Police also said there’s evidence Wiggins was driving on a suspended license at the time of the crash.
The tractor-trailer crashed into the back of the party bus as they both traveled east through York County about 1:30 am Dec. 16. Both vehicles veered off the roadway into an embankment, ejecting all 23 bus passengers. Three young people from Hampton Roads were killed.
Both drivers are being investigated for reckless driving, the affidavit said. But no charges against either have been filed. State Police First Sgt. Eugene R. Desaulniers said this week that the investigation into the crash “remains ongoing.”
Wiggins told investigators he was in the far-right lane of I-64 when he saw the truck advancing from behind, according to the affidavit filed in York-Poquoson Circuit Court.
“I checked my driver-side mirror,” he told the police. “I see a semi-truck approaching very fast. I started to change lanes and got him from the back.”
Daniel L. Cramer, the Alabama man driving the tractor-trailer, a 2002 Freightliner Cascadia, told police he “did not see any tail lights,” and “drove up on the bus.”
The rear-end collision caused the bus to do a 180-degree turn and “lock up” with the tractor-trailer causing them to veer across the roadway, Bicking wrote in the affidavit.
“When the party bus struck the guard rail, the bus lost its entire cab shell, and all the passengers were ejected,” the affidavit said. The tractor-trailer continued across the median, striking the guard rail for the westbound lanes on I-64.
Three bus passengers were killed: Montia Bouie, 19, of Chesapeake; Xavier Raquan Evans, 25, of Norfolk; and Johntae Kaalib Russell, 21, of Norfolk. The three were found unresponsive on the roadway’s shoulder.
Other passengers with a wide range of injuries — some life-threatening — were taken to area hospitals.
Bicking’s affidavit said “heavy material” had been added to the party bus during modifications that exceeded its weight limit and reduced its top speed. That material was found in the wreckage at the crash site, the affidavit said.
Virginia State Police spokeswoman Michelle Anaya said in a Dec. 18 news release that the party bus “merged into the tractor-trailer’s path.” None of the 23 passengers were wearing seat belts. The bus had bench seating that did not provide seat belts, police said.
News reports said the group was on its way back from Richmond, where it had gone to celebrate Evans’ fledgling music career.
Bicking’s affidavit said state police investigators found “many empty bottles of alcohol scattered with the party bus wreckage.” A trooper who peered into the driver’s side window of the tractor-trailer saw “four unknown pill bottles” on the floorboard and “a diabetic sugar tester” in the driver’s seat.
Anaya said Dec. 17 that “alcohol and speed are contributing factors” in the fatal crash. But she later clarified that neither driver was under the influence.
The bus — a 2000 International Model 3400 — was owned by “an individual” and used by a company called Futrell’s Party Adventure’s LLC, said Desaulniers of the state police. He declined to say why or when the bus was modified, citing the ongoing investigation.
The company could not be immediately reached at its Norfolk office Thursday evening.
Bickling wrote in the affidavit there’s evidence the bus driver was “suspended from driving,” but Desaulniers declined to say when or why Wiggins’ driver’s license had been suspended, or in which jurisdiction.
Although reckless driving is typically a misdemeanor, it elevates to a felony under Virginia law if someone is driving on a suspended license and causes the death of another person.
Moreover, the affidavit said there’s evidence the truck driver “who slammed the back of the bus at full speed” had “falsified log books by driving well outside his working duty time allowed.”
The National Transportation Safety Board is working with the state police on the investigation, Anaya said. The federal agency mandates certain rules on truck drivers. They can’t drive more than 11 hours a day or 70 hours a week, for example, and must take regular breaks, among other safety restrictions.
The state police found 13 victims’ cell phones in the wreckage, and got a warrant to examine them further.
“These cell phones could have crucial data stored, from video to messages of what was occurring before, during, and after the crash,” Bicking wrote in the affidavit. “This data could aid in the determination of charges in this case.”
Peter Dujardin, 757-247-4749, firstname.lastname@example.org