Truck driver found not guilty in bus crash.
April 30, 2007. By Associated Press.
Hudson, Wis. A truck driver was found not guilty on all charges in a bus crash that killed five people returning from a high school marching band competition.
Michael Kozlowski, 24, of Schererville, Ind., had been accused of falling asleep at the wheel and causing the early morning crash that killed five and injured 28 others on Interstate 94 near Osseo in 2005. His truck tipped over after nearly going off the road and was hit by a bus filled with 44 students, teachers and chaperones returning from a competition in Whitewater.
Jurors deliberated about four hours before finding Kozlowski not guilty on five counts of negligent homicide, seven felony counts of causing great bodily harm by reckless driving and 21 misdemeanor counts of causing injury by reckless driving.
The Oct. 16, 2005, crash killed bus driver Paul Rasmus, Chippewa Falls High School band director Doug Greenhalgh, his wife Therese, their granddaughter Morgan and student teacher Branden Atherton.
"Mr. Kozlowski was clearly innocent of the charges from the get-go," defense lawyer Earl Gray said. "It is a very quick verdict."
He said Kozlowski, who showed no emotion when the verdict was announced, would not comment because of pending lawsuits.
"Obviously, he is happy," Gray said.
Prosecutors contended that Kozlowski regularly drove on little sleep. He went out drinking the night before he started a 430-mile trip to haul groceries from Munster, Ind., to St. Paul, Minn., District Attorney Rich White said in closing arguments.
White said later he was "immensely disappointed" with the verdict, but not with the process.
The victims' families wanted answers about what happened the morning of the crash and the trial gave them some, White said, especially regarding the behavior of the truck driver.
"I would charge him again," White said. "It is not my position to second-guess the jury. For whatever reason they didn't agree with my position."
Kozlowski's truck was going about 70 mph when it drifted to the shoulder. When he tried to swerve back onto the road, the truck tipped over, blocking both lanes. The bus hit it.
"What happened here was not unavoidable, was not somehow the result of an ice storm, for example," White told the jury during his closing arguments. "What happened here was purely and simply a result of choices over hours, over days, over weeks. The choices that left that man unable to safely drive. What happened here -- those injuries, those deaths -- need not have happened."
Gray portrayed his client as a truck driver whose only mistake was driving too fast when he tried to pull over to the side of the road to go to the bathroom. Kozlowski may not have logged all of his hours of sleep, but he got them, he said.
"There is no evidence he was fatigued and no evidence of any lack of sleep," Gray said. "He had 10 hours of sleep, not the day before, that day."
Gray blamed the accident on Rasmus, saying the 78-year-old bus driver should have avoided the accident, but he was tired and not wearing the glasses that his driver's license required.
The jury's verdict sent a message that the bus driver was more at fault, the defense lawyer said.
"Paul Rasmus was much more negligent to a higher degree than Michael Kozlowski," Gray said.
A St. Croix County jury of seven women and five men heard the case because of pretrial publicity in Eau Claire County.
Kozlowski's father, Michael Kozlowski Sr. of Munster, Ind., was red-eyed and teary after the verdict.
"My son was not in the wrong," he said. "It was just an unfortunate series of events."