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By David Voreacos and Margaret Newkirk
Police found a silver marijuana pipe and a bag containing prescription drugs in a tractor trailer that struck a bus and killed four members of a college women’s softball team in Oklahoma, according to a police inventory from a search of the truck.
Russell Staley, 53, was driving north on Sept. 26, when his Quickway Transportation Inc. truck veered off Interstate 35 near Davis, Oklahoma, crossed a grassy median, and struck a southbound van carrying a team from North Central Texas College. Police are conducting a criminal probe, while the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board also is investigating. No one has been charged with a crime.
The Sept. 28 search of the truck yielded a “Silver Smoking Pipe w/assembly emitting an odor of burnt marihuana,” according to an inventory of items seized after police obtained a search warrant signed in district court in Murray County, Oklahoma. Bloomberg News reviewed the two-page inventory, which included the prescription drugs found in Staley’s black Husky bag.
Staley didn’t immediately return a call yesterday seeking comment on the marijuana pipe found in the truck or the prescription drugs found by police in his bag.
“I’m a parent, I understand, you know,” Staley said in an Oct. 8 phone interview about the accident. “I’m just trying to get through this like everybody else. This has been horrible.”
Staley’s attorney, Fob Jones said: “I don’t have any comment at this time.”
Police found four drugs prescribed by a Dallas physician: trazodone, an antidepressant also used to relieve sleeplessness and tension; sertraline, an antidepressant also used to treat panic and anxiety; omeprazole, which reduces stomach acid; and simvastatin, a statin used to reduce bad cholesterol. Side effects for trazodone and sertraline, a generic version of Zoloft, can include drowsiness.
“This is a pretty typical array for a man of his age,” said Angela George, assistant professor of pharmacology at the University of Minnesota. Trazodone is often prescribed to induce sleep and “a lot of people do feel fatigued” on sertraline, she said.
Prednisolone, a steroid typically used for allergies, skin condition and arthritis, was also among the drugs found as well as Nexium, which reduces stomach acid.
In addition to the prescription drugs, Staley’s bag contained over-the-counter naproxen, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, as well as benzocaine, a local anesthetic.
Nothing in the document indicated that Staley consumed any of the drugs, including marijuana.
“I couldn’t comment on any of that,” said Oklahoma Highway Patrol Captain Ronnie Hampton.
After the accident, police took blood samples of Staley and the coach of the softball team, Van Hedrick, who was driving the bus, according to Hampton.
He told reporters after the crash that while Staley showed no signs of impairment, police were investigating whether any legal or illegal drugs were involved. Police also expect a full toxicology report within eight weeks of the crash, which is standard procedure after an accident.
The results of that report could determine whether police eventually charge Staley, who lives in Saginaw, Texas.
“It depends on the state and jurisdiction,” said Peter Stout, president of the Society of Forensic Toxicologists. “You can have an accident with injury or death where the charge is elevated because drugs or alcohol were present.”
Cooperate With Investigators
Harry Crabtree, a vice president for Nashville, Tennessee-based Quickway, didn’t immediately respond to a call seeking comment today.
Earlier this week Crabtree said he couldn’t comment on the case and referred a reporter to a statement on the company website. In the Sept. 28 statement, Quickway Chief Executive Officer William P. Prevost said the company will cooperate with investigators.
“We want to offer our thoughts and prayers to the families of Meagan, Brooke, Katelynn and Jaiden, and the rest of the North Central Texas College community,” Prevost said. “Trusting in God’s grace, we hope to one day join the college in properly memorializing these ladies’ lives, and their legacy.”
The accident killed four infielders: Jaiden Pelton, 19, of Telephone, Texas; Brooke Deckard, 20, of Blue Ridge, Texas; Meagan Richardson, 19, of Wylie, Texas; and Katelynn Woodlee, 18, of Dodd City, Texas.
The families of at least three team members, including Pelton and Deckard, have separately sued Staley and Quickway. Staley is accused in Pelton’s negligence lawsuit, filed Oct. 7 in state court in Murray County, Oklahoma, of driving in a “careless or wanton manner” and failing to maintain a safe speed, obey traffic laws and devote his full attention to driving.
Staley also “operated the semi under the influence of one or more intoxicating substances,” according to the complaint.
“We don’t know anything for sure at this point,” said Thomas Marcum, Pelton’s attorney. “Everything at this point is just an allegation. We will find out more as we go through discovery.”
Deckard’s parents sued Quickway and Staley on Oct. 6 in state court in Tarrant County, Texas. They claim he was grossly negligent for driving while distracted, failing to take evasive action, and driving in violation of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations.
To contact the reporters on this story: David Voreacos in federal court in Newark, New Jersey, at
firstname.lastname@example.org; Margaret Newkirk in Atlanta at email@example.com