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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Ocala man pleads not guilty to DUI manslaughter charges in deaths of 8 farmworkers

An Ocala man has pleaded not guilty to multiple DUI manslaughter charges in connection with an accident on West State Road 40 that left 8 dead and over 30 others injured last month.

Bryan Maclean Howard, 41, was arrested in the afternoon on May 14 by Florida Highway Patrol state troopers assigned to the Northern Region Specialized Investigations and Reconstruction Team.

Bryan Maclean Howard
On May 14, Bryan Maclean Howard was arrested and charged with eight counts of DUI manslaughter.

According to the Florida Highway Patrol, the fatal accident took place at around 6:35 a.m. on May 14, near the intersection of W State Road 40 and SW 148th Court.

The bus, which was a 2010 International Bus, was transporting approximately 53 employees of a local farming company when it was sideswiped by Howard’s 2001 Ford Ranger pickup truck.

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Eight people were killed after their bus was involved in an accident on SR 40 on May 14, 2024.

After the collision, the bus traveled off the roadway, went through a fence, and overturned.

Dozens of emergency units from the Marion County Fire Rescue, Marion County Sheriff’s Office, Ocala Fire Rescue, and other agencies responded to the scene. Throughout the day, authorities released additional details about the incident, including photos from the scene.

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Multiple units responded to the fatal accident on W SR 40 on May 14, 2024.

The accident led to W SR 40 being shut down from SW 180th Avenue Rd to SW 140th Avenue for hours as officials investigated the scene.

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Emergency personnel remove an individual from the scene of a fatal accident on W SR 40 on May 14, 2024. (Photo: Ocala Fire Rescue)

The workers were en route to Cannon Farms, which is located at 11801 SW 180th Avenue in Dunnellon.

In the hours after the accident, a GoFundMe was established by the Farmworker Association of Florida to raise $50,000 for the farmworkers and their families. The fundraiser exceeded that goal, ultimately raising nearly $127,000.

The day after the fatal crash, Howard was arraigned in Marion County Court. He was denied bond due to extensive history of criminal traffic convictions and incidents, including an accident he caused the previous weekend.

Bryan Maclean Howard awaits arraignment in Marion County on Wednesday morning. (Photo: Marion County Sheriff's Office)
Bryan Maclean Howard awaiting arraignment in Marion County on May 15, 2024. (Photo: Marion County Sheriff’s Office)

Howard appeared at his arraignment covered in bulletproof vests and sporting a bandage around his head. He requested a public defender before answering questions about his self-employment asked by Marion County Judge LeAnn Mackey-Barnes.

Howard told the judge that he was self-employed, that he had $700 in his bank account, and that his business, BHM Maintenance, made about $1,200 a month from painting and drywall work. He told the judge that he had no assets and no dependents before she verified that he qualified for a public defender.

Bryan Maclean Howard is accused of eight counts of DUI manslaughter.

As the arraignment continued, the State Attorney’s Office made a case to deny Howard bond by reading a list of his previous charges into the record.

Marion County jail records show that Howard, who is from Ocala, has been convicted of at least 19 felonies, misdemeanors, and traffic violations over the past 20 years. That includes a suspended license driving conviction, a parole violation, and leaving the scene of a crash, according to county records.

Howard was also allegedly responsible for another accident just three days prior to the fatal crash on May 14.

During the arraignment hearing on May 15, the judge took all of Howard’s past transgressions into account.

“Given the nature of the charges, and given the possibility for the pending charges, right now this court is going to hurt you on a no bond on all eight counts, sir,” said Mackey-Barnes. The judge went on to strip Howard of his ability to operate a vehicle or consume alcohol or non-prescription drugs.

Bryan Maclean Howard was arraigned in Marion County Court on Wednesday morning.
Bryan Maclean Howard was arraigned in Marion County Court on May 15, 2024.

“You were in an automobile accident at least three days prior to this accident. You are not allowed to operate a motor vehicle while this case is pending, sir,” said Mackey-Barnes. “And you are not allowed to consume or possess any alcoholic beverages, any controlled substances, or take any kind of prescription drugs without a prescription.”

On Wednesday, June 18, another arraignment was held in Marion County Court. During that hearing, which Howard did not attend, his plea of “not guilty” was entered in court and a pretrial conference was scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on October 8, 2024.

Jury selection for Howard’s upcoming trial is set to begin at 8:30 a.m. on October 14, 2024.