A Columbia County jury found an Indianapolis truck driver guilty Thursday of driving his semi into a disabled school bus while impaired in a 2018 crash on Interstate 39/90/94 near Arlington.
Wayne Murphy, 43, was convicted Thursday night on 30 charges, including injury by intoxicated use of a vehicle and second-degree causing reckless injury, after 16 other counts were removed from the court record earlier in the day.
He was accused of taking too many prescription pills before he crashed his semi into the bus, injuring all 33 people aboard, most of them children.
The jury deliberated for just 1 hour, 36 minutes before reaching the guilty verdict.
Murphy faces up to a maximum 126 years in prison and $260,000 in fines. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled at a later date after a presentence investigation has been completed.
Murphy was taken into custody and placed in the Columbia County Jail Thursday night.
From the witness stand during the fourth day of the trial Thursday, Murphy testified that he felt calm, relaxed and clear-headed the day of the crash and said he was riding the white line on the side of the highway for safety reasons.
During closing arguments Thursday, defense attorney Ronald Benavides pointed to the use of words or phrases such as “potentially” or “could be” during testimonies from expert witnesses to suggest the state had a weak case.
“Mr. Murphy was not under the influence,” Benavides said. “He was not impaired.”
Benavides said Murphy was prevented from checking on the well-being of those on the bus by an irate parent who threatened him. Several victims who testified earlier in the week said it bothered them that Murphy did not ask whether they were OK.
Benavides also pointed to a sample of neat handwriting and said Murphy was able to write legibly, and argued an impaired person could not. He performed his own one-leg stand before jurors and asked them to notice that even while sober in court, it is not easy to perform the task often used by law enforcement as evidence of intoxication.
Refuting the state’s timeline of events, Benavides said a 10-second event in which Murphy clipped a milepost marker was separate from the crash that occurred less than an hour later.
Assistant Attorney General Tara Jenswold in her own closing remarks walked over to a board loaded with sticky notes and one by one, she pulled away pieces of paper containing variables in the crash to reveal one word for the jury: “Excuses.”
Jenswold said it was “insulting” to the children who were hurt in the crash for Murphy to take the stand and claim he is a safe driver.
“That is not a man who is about safety,” Jenswold said. “The explanation for this crash is as obvious as that big yellow school bus.”
Jenswold said Murphy was predictably dangerous before he drove a “80,000-pound missile” into the bus.
She added even a manager from his own company, Dahl Trucking, called the Wisconsin State Patrol to ask troopers to pull the driver off the road for the safety of everyone on the highway.
“In a matter of seconds, the day went to shambles,” Jenswold said. “He slammed into that bus and changed those kids’ lives forever.”