CHICAGO - Players, parents and coaches of the St. Ignatius College Prep junior varsity hockey team have filed a lawsuit after a crash with a truck driver in Indiana hospitalized 25 people earlier this month.
The lawsuit alleges the truck driver had a blood alcohol level nearly twice the legal limit when he ran a red light and crashed his semi tractor trailer into the bus on Nov. 12 in Warsaw, Indiana.
Victor Santos, 58, briefly tapped the brakes of his truck as he approached an intersection on U.S. Rte. 30, then barreled through a red light and knocked the school bus on its side, according to court documents that include new details of the crash.
The crash sent all 23 of the players and their two coaches to a local hospital where three of the players were critically injured. One teammate remains hospitalized.
The lawsuit lists Santos and trucking companies, N&V Trucking Express, B&W Cartage Company, Inc., B&W Cartage, Inc. and B&W Cartage International, Inc., as defendants. They are accused of negligence and willful and wanton disregard for the safety of the people on the bus.
Before the crash, the semi was seen swerving back and forth across a highway and traveling more than 90 mph, according to Indiana authorities.
Witnesses said it did not appear Santos tried to slow down or swerve to miss the bus.
Santos was operating a truck and trailer out of the state of New Jersey, Warsaw police said. His blood alcohol level was .13%, almost twice the legal limit in Indiana, police reported.
Santos stumbled out of his truck when police approached and officers reported smelling alcohol on him. "Santos’ eyes [were] red and glossy," a police report states, adding that his speech was "slurred and slow."
Witnesses told police they had been following Santos’ truck back in Columbia City, about 20 miles away, and said he was traveling more than 90 mph at times.
Other witnesses said they tried to outrun the truck because it was traveling so erratically, but they "noticed the semi tractor-trailer catching up from behind at a high rate of speed. "
The truck passed them while "straddling the yellow line in the middle of the roadway, forcing them off the side of the road," police said. They called police to report the driver, then followed with their hazard lights flashing.
The witnesses said the truck’s brake lights "illuminated momentarily" at Center Street but the truck "continued into the intersection without slowing down, running the red light and striking the school bus that was turning left on the green arrow," the police report states.
Santos was charged with felony counts of causing serious bodily injury while operating a vehicle and criminal recklessness while armed with a deadly weapon, police said.
In court documents, officials said Santos is a registered sex offender in the state of New York, and was convicted of rape in 1999.
The hockey team had been competing in a tournament at Culver Military Academy and were returning to their hotel from dinner when the crash occurred.
Karl D'Cunha says his son managed to call him the night of the crash.
"He said Dad, we've been hit by a truck. A lot of people are hurt," said D'Cunha.
Many of the parents now filing a lawsuit were together for dinner when their world shifted.
"People were standing up screaming, ‘the bus has rolled over, the bus has rolled over,’ and we all just ran to the car," said Wendy Cook, whose son Alex was injured.
Cook says for 50 minutes she didn't know if Alex had survived. Then, as parents waited at a hospital, she says police walked the suspect in.
"He walked through a hysterical group of parents without a look of emotion on his face," Cook said.
The lawsuit accuses the defendants of negligence and willful and wanton disregard for the safety of the players and coaches aboard the bus.
"What responsible trucking company would allow this man to drive? We're going to find answers to that," said attorney Tim Cavanagh.
In announcing this suit downtown, parents say their aim is accountability
"I would never want to that man out of jail and nor would I ever want to see him behind the wheel of any vehicle again," said Eileen Murphy.
Jeff Roger's son, Jack, was recently released from the hospital and needs to use a wheelchair and crutches.
"He'll have a long road to recovery, months to recover," said Rogers.
But the team that prayed together at the crash site is plotting a comeback on the ice.
Wendy Cook says her son told her, "When we get back out there, I think we may win the whole thing because we're going to have a tighter bond than any other team has ever had."