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Defense: Drop case against Utah bus driver accused of molesting girls

Published July 31, 2014 2:07 pm

Courts • Video allegedly shows John Martin Carrell touching girls while buckling seatbelts.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

West Jordan • The attorney for a former Canyons School District bus driver accused of molesting two 5-year-old Sandy girls asked a judge Thursday to dismiss all 34 charges against the 61-year-old defendant.

Defense attorney Ron Yengich said there was insufficient evidence presented at the preliminary hearing to support the charges against John Martin Carrell.

And while bus video cameras filmed all of Carrell's interactions with the girls, Yengich argues that what the prosecution has alleged is overstated.

"There is no evidence, none, that the childwas injured physically or emotionally," nor was there any evidence that Carrell intended to become sexually aroused, Yengich told 3rd District Judge Bruce Lubeck, who took the matter under advisement.

Charges allegethat Carrell touched the girls inappropriately while buckling and unbuckling them into their seats while riding his bus to and from Sandy's Altara Elementary School.

But Yengich argued that "inadvertent touching" is not enough to support criminal charges. He conceded that Carrell's hand had brushed one girl's buttocks, but stressed that he was not rubbing her or gratifying himself in doing so.

Yengich said violations of school policy regarding physical contact with student are not evidence of violating state statutes.

Prosecutor Nathan Evershed argued that Carrell at times licked his fingers before or after touching one of the girls; Yengich said the bus driver is rubbing his eye or nose.

Evershed addressed each of the counts and the alleged sexual touching that occurred, such as when Carrell allegedly had a hand by the girls' crotches or was manipulating a girl's skirt while she was near him at the front of the bus.

And while the bus seats sometimes blocked the camera's view of Carrell's interaction with one of the girls, Evershed pointed out that he unbuckled the girl last and spent longer with her than the other children — spending 19 to 95 seconds with her, compared to several seconds with the others.

Evershed — noting that the alleged victims are special-needs students — told that judge that Carrell had taken advantage of "some of the most vulnerable people in our community."

The legal arguments culminated a two-day preliminary hearing to determine if Carrell should stand trial.

Lubeck said Thursday he wanted to re-watch the videotapes — which constitute the primary evidence for the charges — before making a decision, which will be announced at a hearing set for Aug. 11.

During testimony Wednesday, Steven Dimond, the school district's human resources director, testified that school bus drivers can high-five, knuckle-bump, and help kids into seats, but have no other physical contact with students.

Lorraine Miles, the school district's special-education route coordinator and Carrell's supervisor, testified that the video obtained from Carrell's bus shows "there was inappropriate touching of students."

She said there are four cameras on the bus, which record sound and in color, and that bus drivers are aware that there are cameras on the buses.

Students on the bus are secured with a seat belt that is similar to a booster seat, one that goes over the shoulders and latches between the legs, Miles said. The seats have been a source of discomfort for bus drivers due to the district's policy against touching, she added.

Carrell was charged in May with 23 counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child for alleged ongoing abuse of a 5-year-old Sandy girl from late February to late April.

On July 14, a second case was filed, charging Carrell with an additional 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child and one count of attempted aggravated sexual abuse of a child, for acts that allegedly occurred with the other girl in March and April.

The first girl mentioned the alleged abuse to a relative, who contacted police. According to charging documents in the second case, the second girl had been acting out, and her father went to police after learning that Carrell had been charged with sexually abusing the other girl.

"It's difficult to hear the evidence," said Kevin Robson, an attorney speaking on behalf of the family of one of the victims.

Carrell resigned after he was put on administrative leave April 24 in response to the initial abuse allegations. He is being held at the Salt Lake County jail in lieu of $5 million cash-only bail. If convicted as charged, he faces up to life in prison.

mmcfall@sltrib.com

Twitter: @mikeypanda