Trucker sentenced in infamous mistaken identity wreck

| 8/15/2007

A Michigan truck driver faces four years in prison out of a 36-year sentence for causing a crash that killed five Taylor University students in April 2006.

Robert F. Spencer was charged with and eventually pleaded guilty to five counts of reckless homicide and four counts of criminal recklessness resulting from the April 26, 2006, wreck on Interstate 69 in Indiana.

According to the affidavit of probable cause, Spencer’s 1996 Freightliner left the northbound lanes, crossed the grass median and struck a southbound 15-passenger van. The van was carrying students and employees of Taylor University. Four students and one employee died from injuries resulting from the collision.

The wreck gained national recognition when the identity of two of the students was mistaken and it took weeks to sort out their true identities.

In the day before the wreck, the affidavit stated, Spencer drove 16 hours – five more than the legal 11 hours of driving time. And, on the day of the wreck, Spencer had been behind the wheel for more than 20 hours, according to the affidavit.

Spencer of Canton, MI, initially pleaded not guilty to all charges, but finally accepted a plea agreement in May 2007 that guaranteed he would not spend more than 24 years in prison.

In an Aug. 14 sentencing hearing, Judge Brian D. Hutchison accepted Spencer’s guilty pleas and sentenced Spencer to four years on each of the nine counts.

However, the judge ordered the four-year sentences for each of the five reckless homicide charges be served concurrently. He also ordered the four-year sentences of the four criminal recklessness charges be served concurrently. That left Spencer facing eight years of prison time.

The judge went on to suspend four years, leaving Spencer facing only four years of prison time.

With credit for time already served and potential credit for good behavior, Spencer could be out in a year or so, according to Grant County Prosecuting Attorney James D. Luttrull Jr.

Spencer is also precluded from operating as a commercial driver throughout the period of his sentence.

– By Jami Jones, senior editor