Trucker Pleads Guilty to Fatal "Mix up" Accident

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A Michigan trucker accused of causing a crash that killed four students and a staff member from Taylor University faces up to 24 years in prison after pleading guilty Tuesday to charges in the case.

Robert F. Spencer, 38, of Canton Township, Mich., pleaded to five counts of reckless homicide and four counts of criminal recklessness resulting in serious bodily injury, all felonies. Last year, he had pleaded not guilty to the same charges in the 2006 crash and faced an August trial.

The case drew additional national attention after one of the students from Michigan who was killed in the crash was misidentified by the county coroner as one from Michigan who was among the injured.

Prosecutor James Luttrull Jr. said Spencer, who has been jailed since he was arrested in September, faces four to 24 years in prison.

A Jay Circuit Court judge took the plea agreement under advisement and set a sentencing hearing for Aug. 14.

On April 26, 2006, Spencer's semitrailer collided with a Taylor van on Interstate 69 as students and staff were on their way back to the Upland campus from Fort Wayne.

Authorities say Spencer had driven at least nine hours more than allowed under federal rules before he fell asleep behind the wheel, causing the crash on the highway about midway between Indianapolis and Fort Wayne.

The identity mix-up wasn't discovered until five weeks later, when the family of Laura VanRyn, of Caledonia, Mich., realized that the woman they thought was their daughter actually was Whitney Cerak, of Gaylord, Mich., another Taylor student who has since recovered and returned to classes.

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