ITHACA, N.Y. – The driver in the fatal Big Red Bullet bus crash in October will face trial on charges including homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence after a judge in Lackawanna County Magisterial District Court ruled Thursday that there is enough evidence for the case to move forward.
Charles Dwight Dixon, 50, was driving a Big Red Bullet route from Ithaca to New York City on Oct. 14 when the bus veered off I-380 near Covington Township, Pennsylvania and struck several trees. Rebecca Blanco, a 2017 graduate of Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management from Vacaville, California, died in the crash. One passenger was airlifted from the scene with critical injuries and 10 others were treated for injuries including a broken neck, broken leg and extensive bruising.
Dixon told police that prior to the crash he was tired and fell asleep, and he later tested positive for traces of cocaine in his blood, according to Pennsylvania State Police.
Dixon was initially charged with 33 criminal counts, including homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence, aggravated assault by vehicle while DUI, 12 counts of aggravated assault by vehicle, 12 counts of recklessly endangering another person, homicide by vehicle, involuntary manslaughter, DUI and violations including reckless driving, careless driving, disregarding traffic lanes, and operating an unsafe vehicle. At a preliminary hearing Thursday, the judge determined there is sufficient evidence to try Dixon in the Court of Common Pleas on 26 charges, withdrawing seven counts of aggravated assault.
About 15 minutes before the crash, Blanco had texted 911 to report unsafe driving, according to police records. At 8:48 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14, she sent a message to dispatchers reading, “I’m on a Big Red Bullet bus going from Ithaca to New York City. We are 10mi outside Scranton. I’m highly concerned that the bus driver is unable to drive. We’ve almost gotten into two accidents, veering off the road twice. Once entering the grassy divide. He’s swerving into other lanes and seems to have trouble staying awake.” Blanco texted the exact location of the bus and the 911 operator told her state police were notified.
About 11 minutes later, a driver on I-380 called 911 to report that he saw a bus driving erratically, “swerving in and out of traffic, going on the shoulder, and taking up two lanes” according to the police report.
At 9:01 p.m. dispatch received a report that the bus had crashed, and state troopers arrived on scene moments later.
A drug recognition expert evaluated Dixon for intoxication at the nearby state police barracks and concluded he was under the influence of pain medication and a stimulant “that rendered him incapable of safely driving, operating, or being in actual physical control of the movement of a vehicle,” the police report reads. A blood test performed at a hospital later that night revealed traces of cocaine, records show.
Dixon had driven passengers from New York City to Ithaca earlier on the day of the crash and reported that he did not have a break before beginning the return trip. He told police he had been driving for Big Red Bullet for about a month and usually had breaks between routes, but not on Sundays.
An inspection of the bus after the crash found that 33 percent of the service brakes were defective, meaning the bus should have been out of service per Pennsylvania state law. GPS tracking showed the bus was traveling at about 60 mph at the time of the crash.
Dixon has been in custody at the Lackawanna County Jail since Dec. 27 and was remanded to custody after his preliminary hearing. He is being held on $400,000 bail while awaiting trial.