Fresno DA charges woman after deadly bus crash

AP News
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Posted: Jul 19, 2011 9:10 PM
Fresno DA charges woman after deadly bus crash

A woman accused of providing alcohol to a teenage driver who caused a deadly Greyhound bus crash has been charged with a misdemeanor, officials said Tuesday.

Michelle Kay Cole, 22, was charged with purchasing an alcoholic beverage for a person under 21 resulting in death, Fresno County District Attorney Elizabeth Egan said at a news conference.

Cole was cited Monday but not arrested, Egan said. She could face six to 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine if convicted.

A California Highway Patrol report placed sole blame for the crash on 18-year-old Sylvia Garay. Investigators said she was drunk when her SUV hit a concrete barrier and overturned on Highway 99 on July 22, 2010.

The oncoming bus, carrying 31 passengers on a route from Los Angeles to Sacramento, struck the SUV, skidded into a concrete center divider, then tumbled down a 15-foot embankment and plowed into a eucalyptus tree shortly after 2 a.m. a few miles from downtown Fresno.

Garay, her two passengers and three people on the bus were killed. Authorities say Garay had a blood alcohol level of .11 when she died. The legal limit is .08.

The CHP report said the bus driver had no way to avoid the SUV, which was left without lights when it overturned.

The report said Cole _ a friend of Garay _ went into a liquor store with Garay and her two passengers and bought two bottles of flavored vodka. It said Cole used her valid California identification card to buy the alcohol.

Cole knew her friends were underage, investigators said. Garay and her passengers later drank the alcohol at a friend's house, they said.

Cole's lawyer Martin Taleisnik, said his client was not surprised by the charges, but the allegations were "opening up old wounds again."

"She is aware of the role she played in the crash and she is remorseful in that regard," he said.

He warned that Cole should not be blamed for the crash.

"She's being made a public face of this accident and people are wanting to blame her for it," Taleisnik said. "I think that it's not true and it's not a fair thing to say. This was a tragic event in her life. The three occupants of the SUV were very good friends of hers and she has been grieving tremendously."

Cole is due in court on Aug. 23 for arraignment.

No charges have been filed against the liquor store owner who sold Cole the alcohol, Egan said.