SHAWNEE, Okla. – Johnny Edward Tall Bear was supposed to appear in Pottawatomie County court Monday on misdemeanor DUI, driving with a suspended or revoked license and other traffic charges.
A bench warrant was issued for his arrest after he failed to show up, according to online court records. However, Tall Bear – who was also facing a charge of actual physical control out of Oklahoma County and had pled no contest to speeding violations over the past several months – was killed Friday after authorities said the SUV he was driving crashed head-on into a school bus, killing a 12-year-old girl.
Konawa schools were closed Monday and classes cancelled to mourn the death of middle school student Rhindi Isaacs, following a memorial Sunday night.
Isaacs, five of her junior high softball teammates and a coach were heading home from a game in Okemah on Friday night. The bus was traveling southbound on US 377, just south of Bowlegs, at around 7:15 p.m. when the Oklahoma Highway Patrol said an SUV heading northbound, driven by Tall Bear, crashed into the bus.
Officials said Tall Bear, 61, tried to pass another vehicle, only to cross into the bus’ path. Both drivers swerved to avoid each other but struck each other, head-on, bursting into flames.
Tall Bear, Isaacs and a third person in the SUV that has not yet been identified were killed. The others on the bus were taken to the hospital to be checked out and released.
News 4 has learned, since November of last year, Tall Bear – also listed as Tallbear in online court records – pled no contest to two separate speeding charges.
Last month, Tall Bear was charged in Oklahoma County with actual physical control and drug charges. He was also charged nearly two weeks ago in the Pottawatomie County DUI case.
The string of traffic violations and DUI charges were Tall Bear’s only run-ins with Oklahoma law enforcement since being released from prison last summer. Tall Bear, who was represented by the Innocence Project and local attorney Douglas Parr, served 26 years in prison until DNA evidence exonerated him in a 1991 murder case.
Monday evening, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) weighed in on the crash, questioning why Tall Bear was still behind the wheel of a vehicle.
“It is clearly evident that our system is broken when someone can get arrested for Driving While Intoxicated not once but twice in three months and still be on the streets wreaking havoc,” said MADD National President Helen Witty in an emailed statement. “We demand to know how this could happen, and we ask all Americans to demand more from our courts, our laws and our society. It’s time to treat this crime like the violent offense it is.”
The OHP is still working to identify the the other person, a woman, killed in the SUV. Investigators are waiting on a toxicology report to determine if Tall Bear was under the influence at the time of the crash.
Funeral services for Isaacs are scheduled for 10:00 a.m. Friday at the Konawa Public School Performing Arts Center.