A truck driver with a history of criminal and civil offenses was fumbling for his cell phone and crashed his tractor-trailer into a stopped school bus Tuesday in rural North Carolina, killing a 5-year-old girl as she boarded the bus, police officials said. The girl’s mother and more than a dozen other children were injured on the two-lane highway near Maxton.
The truck driver, Gary Garnett, 38, had been heading to pick up a load of chickens for Mountaire Farms. He told state police that he was distracted because he was trying to locate his cell phone, which he dropped on the floorboard, said Highway Patrol spokesperson Sgt. Everett Clendenin. It has not been determined what charges, if any, will be filed against Garnett.
According to the Highway Patrol, Garnett had been involved in at least two other crashes and had four previous driving convictions, including one for going 30 mph over the speed limit. He also has three ''failure to appear'' in court notices on his record for which he ultimately appeared in court. In all, Garnett’s records show that he has received at least 21 citations, charges or infractions related to driving since 1984.
Garnett also has criminal convictions. He served prison time for a 1997 conviction of felony common-law robbery and larceny, records show and was released in January 1999. In this instance, he an another man were driving and grabbed a woman’s purse dragging her along. Several hours later he used her credit card at Sears.
Garnett also was charged with unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, a misdemeanor, when his employer at the time, KES Trucking Inc. of Fayetteville, reported that he failed to return a truck after making a delivery. The charge was dismissed two months later when a company representative did not appear in court.
FMCSA officials said they will investigate Garrett’s record to determine if he was qualified to operate a truck. They will also check the maintenance record and condition of his vehicle. The Highway Patrol is conducting its own investigation in these matters.