Pickup driver with lengthy record held in Florida bus crash that killed 8

Pickup driver with lengthy record held in Florida bus crash that killed 8

Pickup driver with lengthy record held in Florida bus crash that killed 8

OCALA, Fla. — A man with a long record of dangerous driving pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to driving under the influence-manslaughter in the deaths of eight Mexican farmworkers whose bus was sideswiped by his pickup truck in central Florida. Dozens more were injured.

Bryan Maclean Howard, 41, remains jailed without bond for Tuesday's crash where the Florida Highway Patrol says he drove his 2001 Ford pickup into the center line on a two-lane road and sideswiped a farmworker bus, causing it to veer off the road, strike a tree and flip over.

He told a judge by teleconference from jail Wednesday that he’s a self-employed painter and drywall installer with $700 in the bank, no other assets and no dependents. Howard’s head was bandaged and he wore a protective gown typically given to inmates on suicide watch. The judge denied bond, appointed a public defender and set his next court appearance for next month.

According to his arrest report, troopers say Howard had bloodshot and watery 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 into a tree a few days earlier while avoiding an animal, and that on Monday night, he had smoked marijuana oil and took his prescribed medications before bed: two anti-seizure drugs and another for high blood pressure. He woke up about five hours later and was driving to a methadone clinic where he receives daily medication for a chipped vertebrae, he said.

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

Howard’s parents did not immediately respond to a Wednesday phone message seeking comment, and the Marion County public defender’s office declined comment.

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 for getting too many citations within a year. In 2013, he was convicted of grand theft. A year later, his probation was revoked after he tested positive for cocaine.

Meanwhile, Mexico’s consulate was working Wednesday to support the seasonal farmworkers, who had been on their way to harvest watermelons at Cannon Farms in Dunnellon when the accident happened at about 6:40 a.m. Tuesday, about 80 miles north of Orlando.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Wednesday morning that 44 Mexican farmworkers were on the bus, hired by a Mexican-American farmer to work on the watermelon farm under H-2A visas. Florida farms use about 50,000 H-2A workers each year, more than any other state, according to the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association.