GROVELAND — A Haverhill man who police said was driving a landscaping truck that sideswiped a stopped school bus and nearly hit a girl may have been under the influence of drugs, according to the prosecutor in the case.
"Whether or not he was under the influence of something, we will never be able to know or prove, but certainly it isn't raw speculation .... You can connect the dots in something like this," Assistant District Attorney John DePaulo said as Luis Cruz, 28, appeared before a Haverhill District Court judge Friday electronically via Zoom.
"It's lucky a child didn't get killed," DePaulo said of the incident that happened Tuesday morning in Groveland.
He said a police investigation showed Cruz uses illegal drugs.
"The relatives said he has a problem with drugs and goes to Lawrence to get drugs," DePaulo said.
He said Cruz's aunt told police that Cruz and his girlfriend once took the aunt's car without permission, and she believed he drove it to Lawrence to buy drugs.
The father of the girl who was nearly hit by the landscaping truck told investigators he pulled her out of the truck's path after it sideswiped the bus near the intersection of Salem Street and Sunset Circle in Groveland, went onto the sidewalk and then sped away, police said.
Police said the girl was about to board the bus. Several children being taken to Bagnall School were on the bus during the Tuesday morning incident, including two of the bus driver's children, but no one was injured, police said.
DePaulo said police received a tip that Cruz was preparing to leave the area to avoid charges related to the school bus incident. Haverhill police arrested him Thursday night at his home in Haverhill on an outstanding warrant related to a previous court case.
Groveland police charged Cruz, who lives at 99 Blaisdell St., Apt. 3, Haverhill, with leaving the scene of property damage, reckless operation of a motor vehicle, failure to stop for a school bus, operating with a suspended license and a marked lanes violation.
Judge Cesar Archilla set bail at $5,000 cash for Cruz at his arraignment Friday. According to court documents, Friday was his 28th birthday.
At the request of DePaulo, the judge revoked the bail later in the hearing due to an outstanding case out of Lawrence, where Cruz is charged with knowingly receiving a stolen motor vehicle. The judge ordered Cruz held without bail pending a pretrial hearing scheduled for June 9.
Before the no-bail order was given, DePaulo asked the judge to set bail at $10,000 cash instead of $5,000, saying Cruz is a risk to flee. DePaulo said police received a tip that Cruz was preparing to leave the area and had failed to appear in court for two prior hearings on an open case.
The judge chose the lower $5,000 bail amount after defense lawyer Janine Lepore said Cruz has lost his job, cannot afford high cash bail and has family in the area.
"He's motivated to resolve this case," Lepore said of Cruz.
Police said that after Tuesday's collision with the school bus, Cruz drove away and later ditched the landscaping truck in Haverhill. Police found the truck, which they said was missing its driver's side mirror.
Groveland police said although they had a brief phone conversation with Cruz in the hours following the school bus incident, he avoided them after that.
Groveland police said Cruz was driving with a suspended license just before 8 a.m. Tuesday when he sideswiped the stopped school bus and then drove onto a sidewalk, nearly hitting the girl.
"This could have been a tragic crash, as a child was just about to get on the bus and had to be pulled out of the way of danger by her father,'' police Chief Jeffrey Gillen said.
Gillen said Groveland police were able to identify Cruz as the driver with help from crash witnesses, neighborhood home surveillance cameras and the Haverhill Police Department, which provided traffic camera footage.
Groveland police were able to identify the Rowley-based landscaping company for which Cruz was working, Gillen said. The company cooperated with police in identifying Cruz, Gillen said.
"I thank Haverhill police and the court for expediting this process so quickly," Gillen said.