A trial date has been set for an Athens ISD bus driver charged in connection with the death of one child and injuries to another in 2019.

John Franklin Stevens, 81, of Mabank, who was driving a school bus when it was struck by a train in January 2019, is charged with criminally negligent homicide and injury to a child. He is out of jail on bond.

Judge Scott McKee of the 392nd District Court on Thursday set Feb. 22, 2022, as the jury trial date, according to Henderson County judicial records.

Christopher Bonilla, a 13-year-old seventh-grade student at Athens Middle School, died as a result of his injuries from the crash. Joselyne Torres, a 9-year-old student at Central Athens Elementary, was injured.

The Henderson County District Attorney’s Office recused itself from the case in February of this year, according to the judicial records. Thomas O. Cloudt with the Texas Attorney General’s Office is currently serving as the prosecution for the trial.

Stevens is represented by attorneys Justin Weiner, Brian M. Schmidt and Mike Head.

“This was a tragic accident and we are looking forward to resolution,” Weiner said.

In August 2020, McKee granted immunity for two Union Pacific employees, Robert Ray and Roger Johnson, who were operating the train involved in the crash.

The state requested immunity in exchange for the Union Pacific employees’ testimonies. Under this immunity deal, Ray or Johnson would not face criminal liability if they were to testify.

According to a report from the Federal Railroad Administration, the bus driver’s failure to stop caused the crash. The bus stopped before the railroad crossing but then kept moving forward onto the tracks, where it was struck by the train.

In August 2020, Weiner said he and Schmidt and Head are proud to represent Stevens, but now they’re fighting Union Pacific and the government.

 
 

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I came to the Tyler Morning Telegraph in September 2019. I report on crime, courts, breaking news and various events in Tyler and East Texas.