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Bus driver in fatal I-80 school bus crash released pending trial

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PARAMUS -

A school bus driver who investigators say caused a fatal crash on Interstate 80 by crossing three lanes of traffic in an apparent attempt to make an illegal U-turn was released Wednesday pending trial.

Hudy Muldrow sat silently in court for much of the two-hour, 30-minute detention hearing. In the gallery, several of Muldrow's friends and relatives nodded and clutched hands after the judge announced his decision. They declined to comment after the hearing.

State Superior Court Judge Stephen Taylor ordered Muldrow released from the Morris County jail, where he has been held since his arrest last week. He will be required to surrender his driver's license and report to court personnel twice a month. He also must not have any contact with the victims or their families.

Muldrow, 77, faces two counts of vehicular homicide stemming from the May 17 crash in Mount Olive. Morris County Assistant Prosecutor Matthew Troiano argued Muldrow had incentive to flee since a conviction on both counts, which carry a 10-year maximum sentence, could doom him to die in prison.

Muldrow was driving one of three buses taking fifth-graders on a field trip from East Brook Middle School in Paramus.

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According to an affidavit filed by New Jersey State Police, Muldrow missed a turn for the Waterloo Village historic site and tried to make an illegal U-turn on the interstate.

After missing the turn, Muldrow merged onto I-80 and quickly crossed three lanes toward a break in the median reserved for emergency vehicles to attempt an illegal U-turn, the affidavit says.

Muldrow's attorney argued Wednesday that there is no evidence his client was attempting to make a left turn onto the median in an area restricted for emergency vehicles.

Muldrow, according to the document, "disregarded the marked No Turn sign" and turned his bus "to the left in an apparent attempt to gain access to an official-use only access point."

It adds that Muldrow turned his bus "so that it was positioned in an almost-perpendicular direction in relation to the lanes of travel" on westbound I-80.

The bus collided with a dump truck, and the impact tore the bus apart.

Ten-year-old Miranda Vargas and 51-year-old teacher Jennifer Williamson-Kennedy were killed, and more than 40 others were injured, some seriously. Vargas' father and Williamson-Kennedy’s husband and brother attended Wednesday's hearing.

“I had to be here today for my baby sister. She was a gift to me and she was a hero,” said Douglas Williamson. “My heart is broken. The community’s heart is broken. I am at a loss for words.”

Much attention has been paid to Muldrow's driving history - he had his license suspended 14 times between 1975 and 2017, mostly for administrative reasons, according to state motor vehicle records. The most recent license suspension was in December for failing to pay parking tickets. He also had eight speeding violations between 1975 and 2001.

On Wednesday, Muldrow's attorney, Matthew Reisig, defended it as an "above average" driving record and noted the speeding tickets spanned 43 years and none had resulted in a license suspension.

Troiano disagreed, calling Muldrow's driving record "atrocious."

Taylor noted that the court's pretrial assessment had recommended release, but he added the condition that Muldrow surrender his personal and commercial licenses.

"I'm not at all comfortable with Mr. Muldrow operating any sort of motor vehicle," he said.

Associated Press reporter David Porter contributed to this report.

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