Former school bus driver Brenda Gray cashed in her retirement to hire Michael LaGuardia to defend her against charges related to a crash that injured 39 students, but her defense is in limbo with her attorney’s death.
Gray, 54, of Jonesborough appeared in Washington Criminal Court Monday, still without representation since LaGuardia’s sudden death in early July.
Judge Robert Cupp said he learned that Gray used her retirement money to pay LaGuardia $14,000 to represent her. She has contacted his office about the payment and was apparently told she would have to file a claim concerning the money. Cupp said she could possibly make a claim against LaGuardia's estate to to reclaim some of the money.
In the meantime, Cupp said there is a “very good” local attorney who might take the case pro bono, which means free of charge. At Gray’s last court appearance, just a short time after LaGuardia died, Cupp let her fill out paperwork for a court-appointed attorney.
Gray is charged with 39 counts of reckless aggravated assault in connection to the Sept. 30 crash that injured 39 students.
The wreck happened around 3 p.m. Sept. 20 on Mount Wesley Road just a short time after Gray left David Crockett High School. Investigators believe she was driving between 52 and 60 mph — nearly twice the 30 mph speed limit — when she went off the left side, then overcorrected and went off the right side of the road. The bus then turned over and rolled once as it slid to a stop.
Tennessee Highway Patrol traffic investigators determined Gray was speeding and at fault for the crash.
Prior to his death, LaGuardia had worked out a plea agreement with prosecutors on Gray’s behalf. Earlier this month she was supposed to plead guilty to charges related to the wreck, and LaGuardia had signed and filed a document with the court detailing several stipulations he and the state had agreed upon.
At that hearing, Cupp said he received that document after LaGuardia's death and didn't want to sign off on it with Gray no longer having representation.
Cupp reset Gray’s case for Aug. 29 to allow time for another attorney to step into the case, but said he could not put the case off indefinitely.
Civil actions related to the crash are still pending. The county school system’s insurance provider paid $700,000 into the court to be dispersed among the injured students. That is the most the school system is required to pay because of statutory limits provided by state law to protect governmental bodies from lawsuits.
Attorney's death delays plea for driver in Washington County school bus crash that injured 39 students