Fatal Athens train bus crash case dismissed

Dec. 4—The case against a former Athens school bus driver, charged with criminally negligent homicide in an auto-train collision, was dismissed.

John Stevens, 82, was driving an Athens Independent School District bus in January 2019 when the wreck occurred. Athens Middle School student Christopher Bonilla was killed in the crash and Joselyne Torrres, 9, a Central Athens Elementary student was critically injured.

On Nov. 21, Stevens pleaded not guilty in 392nd District Judge R. Scott McKee's court to charges of criminally negligent homicide and injury to a child. McKee dismissed the charges.

Steven's legal team, made up of attorneys Brian Schmidt, Justin Weiner and Mike Head, issued the following statement about the dismissal.

"We are grateful that the Assistant Attorney General reviewed all of the evidence that we were able to gather over the course of this case and re-presented this case to the grand jury with those additional facts in mind. The indictment of John for this tragic accident only further compounded a tragedy for our community.

As of today, the most dangerous railroad crossing in Henderson County remains one of the very last crossings without arm gates or lights to alert drivers of an approaching train. We call on Union Pacific and other responsible authorities to immediately take measures to ensure that a fifth accident does not occur at this crossing.

We very much appreciate the overwhelming support of the entire community throughout the entire course of this legal proceeding.

Most of all, we sincerely hope that everyone involved can begin to find peace and closure."

The bus accident occurred Friday, Jan. 25, 2019. The Athens Police Department received a report of an Athens ISD school bus that had been struck by a train in the northeast section of Athens. Upon arrival at the scene, first responders found the train stopped on the tracks near the intersection of Murchison Street. The bus was partially wrapped around the front of the lead locomotive.

The initial investigation indicated that the bus had been heading south on Cream Level Road as it approached the railroad crossing. The bus came to a stop but then continued across the tracks, directly in front of the westbound Union Pacific train.

The bus hit on its left side and became lodged on the locomotive. The train and bus then traveled approximately one quarter of a mile down the track before coming to a stop at the Murchison Street crossing.