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Victims recount horror, lasting effects of 2018 crash when semi struck school bus along I-39 near Arlington
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Victims recount horror, lasting effects of 2018 crash when semi struck school bus along I-39 near Arlington

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In May of last year, Antonio Holder escorted his son from the wreckage of the school bus they were traveling in after it had been struck by a semi on the shoulder of the interstate.

There, the Milwaukee man said he encountered a nurse who had pulled over in traffic to help. Together, they crawled back into the mangled school bus and freed a teenage girl pinned between seats.

“There was a lot of kids that was left in the bus,” Holder said. “The whole back of the bus was smashed.”

From the witness stand Tuesday, Holder, who was a chaperone on the bus loaded with Milwaukee students headed to Wisconsin Dells, described the scene along Interstate 39/90/94 as prosecutors presented their case against Indianapolis truck driver Wayne Murphy.

Trucker says he reported other driver before May 2018 crash with school bus in first day of Columbia County jury trial

The 43-year-old is accused of driving his big rig while impaired after taking too many prescription drugs, leading him to crash into the disabled bus parked on the shoulder of the interstate on May 23, 2018, near Arlington.

In opening statements Monday of the trial in Columbia County Circuit Court, public defender Ronald Benavides said Murphy likely would take the stand later in the trial. Benavides suggested environmental conditions on the interstate that day such as wind contributed to the crash.

On Tuesday, prosecutors questioned many students who were on the bus about their experience and the impact it had on their lives.

One by one, students from the bus and their families outlined both the physical and emotional toll of the incident. Judge Troy Cross asked that the identities of the juvenile victims not be publicized.

Some teens said their injuries prevented them from playing sports, going on family trips or enjoying summer activities. Others said they still have nightmares.

A Milwaukee mother testified her 17-year-old daughter suffered a traumatic brain injury in the crash and has needed assistance to eat, shower and change clothes.

She said her normally loud, energetic daughter has become quiet and distant.

“She’s just not herself,” the girl’s mother said.

One 15-year-old boy who testified Tuesday said he found a piece of broken glass in his ear while showering after the crash.

Assistant Attorney General Tara Jenswold asked the 15-year-old boy about his eighth-grade graduation ceremony, which was postponed due to the crash.

The boy said he wore a back brace and needed to be carried to his seat at the belated ceremony.

A 14-year-old girl told the court that thunder, garbage trucks and other loud noises frighten her. She appeared to shudder at the sounds of maintenance crews working on the roof of the courthouse Tuesday morning.

Assistant District Attorney Jordan Lippert handed her a box of tissues as she recounted the experience.

Another 14-year-girl who took the stand said she still feels pain in her ankles and had trouble walking after the crash, which she still has nightmares about.

The girl recalled at the moment of the crash, she heard a classmate let out a bloodcurdling scream and told her to duck.

“I blacked out for like two seconds. It was total chaos. My adrenaline was running at super speed,” the girl said.

After the day’s court testimony had concluded, 14-year-old Jourdynn Butler told the Daily Register that Murphy stole from her and her classmates what was supposed to be a pregraduation celebration and reward for good behavior. The students from Milwaukee’s HOPE Semper school were on their way to Knuckleheads Trampoline Park in Wisconsin Dells.

“He scarred us. He hurt us a lot,” Butler said.

She said she hopes justice is served and Murphy finds his way in life.

Butler said the crash taught her life is short and nothing should be taken for granted.

“I know God helped me and my friends through that,” Butler said. “Death is a real thing, and it doesn’t have no age.”

Wynettia Lee of Milwaukee told the Daily Register outside the courtroom that she was pulled out of work meeting May 23, 2018, to learn her daughter was injured. The drive to Madison felt like 10 hours that day, she said.

Lee said her own mother has driven semitrailers safely for 15 years. She said Murphy never apologized to the victims’ families, making it difficult to sympathize with him.

Holder said shortly after the crash, he intervened when another parent confronted Murphy and verbally “was in his face.”

“He was so upset, I told him, ‘Calm down; it’s not worth it,” Holder said.

Benavides questioned Holder about what he said to Murphy after the crash. Holder recalled Murphy appeared “out of it” and did not ask if any of the children were OK.

“There was no reaction like ‘Oh, I’’m sorry.’ He was on something. Just zombiefied,” Holder said. “Yes, I said, ‘You look like you don’t even know you hit the school bus.’”

Follow Brad on Twitter @BradMikeAllen or call him at 608-745-3510.

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