Courtesy of WENP-TV

Driver of fatal bus crash that killed a Cornell Alumna is facing homicide charges.

March 19, 2019

Last Fall, a Big Red Bullet Bus Crashed, Killing an Alumna. Now, the Driver Faces Homicide Charges and the Company is Out of Service.

Print More

Charles Dwight Dixon was behind the wheel of a Big Red Bullet bus when it veered off a Pennsylvania road last October, killing a Cornell alumna onboard. Dixon — who had traces of cocaine in his system the night of the crash, hospital testing revealed — will go to trial on 26 charges, including homicide by vehicle while under the influence and involuntary manslaughter. 

Dixon, 50, of the Bronx, was first charged on 33 counts by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in November. He was arraigned in Lackawanna County on Dec. 27, and has remained in custody since on a $400,000 bond, court documents stated. On Thursday, a judge determined that there was enough evidence to move to trial on 26 of the 33 counts. A full list of charges can be found at the bottom of this article.

The most severe charge — second-degree felony homicide by vehicle while under the influence of a controlled substance, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison — remains on the docket.

Alumna Rebecca Blanco M.B.A. ’17, a senior communications manager at home goods company Snowe, was pronounced dead at the scene from multiple traumatic injuries.

No trial date has yet been set, but state-assigned attorney Joseph Paul Kalinowski, a public defender based in Scranton, Penn., will represent Dixon in court.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued Big Red Bullet an out-of-service order in late January, declaring the company “unfit” to operate. The company’s website was shut down in January for “maintenance,” and a fuzzy, recorded message promising a return “next year” greets callers who ring the company number.

The FMCSA began an investigation into the company’s compliance with safety regulations last fall, The Sun reported. Federal records show that the administration registered two compliance violations in November as well a slew of others in October against Big Red Bullet, including reckless driving, allowing drivers to operate a passenger carrier while impaired with fatigue and defective braking and lighting systems.

In late February, officials charged the company with three violations — defective brakes, failure to prepare a driver vehicle inspection report and failure to require the driver to create a log of time on-duty — and $12,550 in total fees.

A post-crash inspection found that a third of the bus’ safety brakes were defective. A Pennsylvania State Police sergeant said in an affidavit that the bus should have been placed out of service if more than a fifth of its brakes were defective.

A motorist referred to in charging documents as “Ben” called 911 the night of the crash, reporting a bus driving erratically down Lackawanna County’s I-380.

Blanco, who was traveling from Ithaca to N.Y.C., also texted 911 just minutes before the crash that killed her, describing reckless driving and worrying behavior.

“I’m highly concerned that the bus driver is unable to drive,” Blanco wrote just before 9 p.m. according to charging documents filed in Lackawanna County. “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.”

Police arrived on the scene minutes later to find the bus crumpled into a grove of trees off the side of the highway. Blanco was pronounced dead at the scene, while all eleven of the other passengers sustained minor injuries and some were transported to local hospitals.

Other passengers’ injuries, according to charging documents, included broken neck bones, bruising, facial fractures, a broken jaw, a broken hand, broken fibulas and an amputated pinky toe.

Dixon told police at the scene that he “fell asleep at the wheel.” Charging documents show that his blood tests at Moses Taylor Hospital after the crash came back positive for benzoylecgonine — a compound formed as the body metabolizes cocaine — and trace amounts of cocaine.

Dixon drove for Big Red Bullet for approximately a month before the October crash. Documents state that Dixon told police that night that he typically got a break between four-to-five-hour trips between Ithaca and New York City, but that he didn’t always get a break on Sundays.

Prior to the deadly crash, multiple customers lodged complaints against Big Red Bullet for trips marred by reckless driving, The Sun previously reported. Complaints detailed hours-long trip delays, swerving and clipped mirrors, as well as drivers who told passengers they had gotten little to no rest between legs of the journey.

Big Red Bullet — founded in fall 2015 by Cornell alumnus Ali Nasser M.Eng ’10 M.B.A. ’15 — offered routes between Ithaca and New York City as an alternative to the University-backed Campus-to-Campus bus.

Big Red Bullet could not be reached for comment by publication time.

Below is an updated list of the charges against Dixon.

  • Homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence (one count)
  • Aggravated assault by vehicle while driving under the influence (one count)
  • Homicide by vehicle (one count)
  • Aggravated assault by vehicle (5 counts)
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or controlled substance (one count)
  • Involuntary manslaughter (one count)
  • Recklessly endangering another person (12 counts)
  • Driving on roadways laned for traffic (one count)
  • Careless driving (one count)
  • Reckless driving (one count)
  • Unlawful activities (one count)