MARION, Ind. – A truck driver accused of falling asleep at the wheel of his rig and causing a highway crash that killed five people, one of whom was misidentified for weeks, was arraigned Thursday on five counts of reckless homicide.
A judge entered a preliminary plea of not guilty on behalf of Robert T. Spencer, who was taken to Indiana on Wednesday after waiving extradition in Michigan. The judge assigned him a public defender after Spencer told him he had only about $100 in cash and no bank accounts.
Spencer's semitrailer crossed a highway median and collided with a Taylor University van on April 26, killing four Taylor students and one faculty member. The case drew national attention five weeks later, when authorities discovered they had mixed up the identifications of two students, one killed in the crash and the other severely injured.
Spencer, 37, of Canton Township, Michigan, was arrested Sept. 1. Prosecutors allege that he had exceeded federal driving-time limits and had fallen asleep at the wheel before the crash.
"It was just an accident. It's not a crime," said Joe K. Lewis, Spencer's attorney. He added that he will seek to have the trial moved to another county.
A bail hearing for Spencer was set for Oct. 16, and a trial date of Jan. 8 was tentatively scheduled.