Bus driver in fatal crash cited 5 times in the past for driving without a license

Bus driver in fatal crash cited 5 times in the past for driving without a license

ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST PARISH, LA (WVUE) - The party bus that crashed into a fire truck and several other vehicles on the I-10 near Laplace on Sunday morning was carrying about two dozen laborers who were seeking work with the firm Wallace, Rush and Schmidt Inc.

"They provide temporary labor for projects like this and clean up and that sort of thing," said attorney Jesse Wimberly, referring to the flood clean up in Baton Rouge.

WRS Inc. employs crews that remediate flooded properties and is co-owned by two elected officials, St. Tammany Constable Eddie Schmidt and Arkansas State Rep. David Wallace.

Wimberly said the company hired a man named Edgar Rudda to recruit the workers they needed.

"That fellow, he's sort of like a head hunter and obviously had connections with the Hispanic community. He put together a potential group of employees. He rented the bus," Wimberly said.

It's still unclear how 37-year-old Denis Amaya Rodriguez wound up behind the wheel of the bus.

"The driver of the charter bus did not have a driver's license and was not authorized to drive a commercial motor vehicle," said Trooper Melissa Matey with the Louisiana State Police.

Police said Rodriguez is from Honduras and is in the country illegally. He was arrested and booked with two counts of negligent homicide, reckless operation and driving without a license.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is now asking authorities in St. John Parish to notify them before Rodriguez is released.

"If he's found guilty, they normally serve out their time and then after they serve out their time, upon release, Immigration and Customs Enforcement will be there waiting on him to pick him up from the prison," immigration attorney Michael Gahagan said.

It's unclear if U.S. Immigrations had any previous encounters with Rodriguez, but his criminal history suggests that he has been in the U.S. for years. Rodriguez was cited five times for driving without a license from 2012 until now. He pleaded guilty in four of the cases.

Deputies in Jefferson Parish arrested Rodriguez for domestic battery in 2011, when he was accused of punching his girlfriend and hitting her with a phone.

"Just being arrested for domestic offense could have been enough for the officer who arrested him to contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement. That's much more than just speeding or driving without a license," Gahagan said.

A spokesperson for ICE said they're focused on smart, effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes the removal of illegal immigrants who commit crimes. They said those convicted of crimes involving violence are among the highest priority for removal from the country.

The domestic abuse and battery charges against Rodriguez were dismissed in 2011.

Rodriguez now has a public defender. He's being held in jail on a $1.1 million bond.

State Police released the following statement Tuesday evening:

"The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) will assume the lead in the investigation surrounding the bus company as authorities continue to gather details pertaining to the events leading up to the fatal crash.  Louisiana State Police will remain the lead investigative agency on the crash itself. This incident remains under investigation, and Troopers will work diligently to discover all facts related to the crash."

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