Driver smoked marijuana oil night before crash that killed 8 farm workers

OCALA, Fla. — A Florida man with a long history of traffic violations smoked marijuana oil the night before a crash that killed eight Mexican farm workers, authorities allege.

Bryan Maclean Howard, 41, is charged with eight counts of DUI manslaughter. He is being held without bond in the Marion County Jail.

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Florida Highway Patrol officials said Howard was driving his 2001 Ford Ranger on State Road 40 Tuesday morning when he veered toward the center line and struck a 2010 International bus carrying more than 50 farm workers.

“Initial investigation reveals that the two vehicles made contact in a sideswipe-type collision,” troopers said in a statement. “Post-collision, the bus traveled off the roadway, through a fence and then overturned.”

Eight of the workers died. At least 40 workers were injured.

The Associated Press reported that Howard was arrested after failing multiple field sobriety tests.

An arrest report identified six of the dead men, according to CNN. They are Evarado Ventura Hernández, 30; Cristian Salazar Villeda, 24; Alfredo Tovar Sánchez, 20; Isaías Miranda Pascal, 21; José Heriberto Fraga Acosta, 27, and Manuel Perez Ríos, 46.

The workers were on their way to work in a watermelon patch at Cannon Farms in Dunnellon, according to the AP. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Wednesday that 44 of the men on the bus were Mexican citizens.

CNN reported that Howard told investigators he smoked marijuana oil with a friend the night before the crash. He also admitted to taking three prescription medications before bed around 11:30 p.m.

Howard said he did not recall how the crash took place but said he was “driving very carefully” because of his involvement in a traffic accident a few days before the fatal bus collision.

A judge denied Howard bond on Wednesday, in part due to his long history of convictions for driving infractions. He was convicted in 2006 of leaving the scene of an accident.

In 2013 and 2018, he was convicted of driving with a suspended license, and he was again convicted in 2019 of leaving the scene of an accident with property damage, CNN reported.

At least one of his citations involved crossing the center line while driving, according to the AP. His license has been suspended at least three times, including once in 2021 for amassing too many traffic citations within a year.

Howard also had a 2013 grand theft conviction, for which he was given probation. In 2014, his probation was revoked after he tested positive for cocaine, the AP reported.

The families of the victims were reeling as they mourned at their homes in Mexico this week. Yamilet Pérez Ríos, 14, wept as she talked about her father, Manuel Pérez Ríos.

“He went to seek a better life for me, for my mother, a week ago,” the teen told the AP. “Now they say my dad is dead.”

The father of four came from a poor but hard-working family of farmers. He had come to the U.S. for the first time to work under a temporary visa, according to his wife.

“He had lots of hopes,” Magdalena Rios said. “He wanted to work.”

Salazar Villeda leaves behind a 5-year-old daughter and a wife he married in March, a friend, Gamaliel Marcel, told the wire service.

“I feel so bad, especially because I knew him my whole life,” said Marcel, of Tallahassee. “He was always the most respectful, but (he) brought out a smile when you needed it.”

Rosalina Hernández Martínez told the AP that her son, Evarado Ventura Hernández, told her his work in Florida was difficult, but that he was happy.

“It hurts,” she said. “A piece of my heart is gone.”

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