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Driver is arraigned in February bus crash

Testifies he was following GPS

Samuel J. Jackson of Philadelphia was arraigned Tuesday in Brighton District Court.

PAT GREENHOUSE/GLOBE STAFF

Samuel J. Jackson of Philadelphia was arraigned Tuesday in Brighton District Court.

The driver of a charter bus that slammed into an overpass on Soldiers Field Road in February continued forward some 500 feet after striking the bridge and told police he entered the roadway because he was “following the GPS.”

Details of the crash, which injured 35 passengers and left one teenager paralyzed, emerged in court documents Tuesday as Samuel Jackson, the 66-year-old driver, was arraigned on charges of negligent driving.

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Jackson, who lives in Philadelphia, pleaded not guilty and was released without bail after a brief appearance in Brighton District Court. He declined to comment after the hearing.

Jackson was driving a group of Pennsylvania teenagers home after a visit to Harvard University through a group that works with at-risk youth.

Authorities say he entered Soldiers Field Road from the Anderson Memorial Bridge, which connects Allston and Cambridge, despite several signs warning that buses and trucks are not allowed on the roadway. There were also warning signs just before the tunnel under the Western Avenue Bridge, police said.

“If Jackson had mistakenly entered Soldiers Fields Road, he should have observed these warning signs and exited at this ramp to avoid striking the overpass,” a police report stated.

A large sign on the overpass signals a clearance of 10 feet. The bus was about 12 feet high.

Several warning signs were illuminated by flashing lights.

There was no indication that Jackson was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. But he was unable to explain why he continued to drive after hitting the overpass, police said.

Prosecutors believe the bus was travelling over the speed limit of 40 miles per hour when it crashed, causing the roof to buckle and collapse on passengers. Investigators for the State Police determined that the bus did not slow down as it entered the tunnel.

Most of the passengers had only minor injuries, but Matt Cruz, 16, sustained a spinal cord injury that has left him paralyzed, according to his lawyer, James Ronca. In February, Cruz filed a civil suit against Jackson and his employer, Calvary Coach.

Ronca said that he and the Cruzes were pleased that prosecutors had charged Jackson with negligence, but were disappointed to learn that he had pleaded not guilty.

“We really do not see what the defense is,” he said in a statement.

Ronca said Cruz is paralyzed in all four limbs and was hospitalized until May. He is in physical therapy several hours a day.

“Matt’s injury has been a tremendous setback for his life, but he remains strong and hopeful,” Ronca said. “The help from family and community has been unbelievable.”

A fund has been created on his behalf to help defray expenses not covered by insurance, he said.

The owner of Calvary Coach, Ray Talmadge, could not be reached for comment. On the night of the crash he told the Globe that Jackson had worked for the company for many years and described him as a “very, very good driver.”

He later told a Philadelphia television station that Jackson told him he was checking his GPS shortly before the crash.

A negligent driving charge carries a penalty of up to two years in prison. Jackson is due back in court July 24 for a pretrial hearing. His lawyer could not be reached for comment.

Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.
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