San Francisco Chronicle

Driver admits drug use before crash


OCALA, Fla. — A man with a long record of dangerous driving told investigat­ors he smoked marijuana oil and took prescripti­on drugs hours before he sideswiped a bus, killing eight Mexican farmworker­s and injuring dozens more, according to an arrest report unsealed Wednesday.

Bryan Maclean Howard, 41, pleaded not guilty to driving under the influence-manslaught­er and remained jailed without bail for Tuesday's crash. The Florida Highway Patrol says he drove his 2001 Ford pickup into the center line on a two-lane road and struck the bus, causing it to veer off the road, strike a tree and flip over.

The seasonal farmworker­s were on their way early in the morning to harvest watermelon at Cannon Farms in Dunnellon about 80 miles northwest of Orlando.

The Mexican consulate in Orlando was working to support the victims. Officials said six of the injured were in serious condition and three others were critical.

According to Howard's arrest report, troopers say he had bloodshot eyes and slurred speech after the crash, which he said he didn't remember.

He told an FHP investigat­or that he had crashed his mother's car a few days earlier, and that on Monday night he had taken two anti-seizure drugs and medication for high blood pressure in addition to smoking marijuana oil. He said he woke up about five hours later and was driving to a methadone clinic where he receives daily medication for a chipped vertebrae, according to the affidavit.

Howard then failed several sobriety tests and was arrested, the FHP said.

The judge denied Howard's bond, appointed a public defender and set his next court appearance for next month.

Marion County court records show Howard has had at least three crashes and numerous traffic tickets dating back to 2006, including one citation for crossing the center line. His license has been suspended at least three times, the latest in 2021.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Wednesday that 44 Mexican farmworker­s were on the bus, hired by a MexicanAme­rican farmer under H-2A visas.

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