Driver error, not mechanical problems, caused CATS bus to plow into house in April, police conclude _lowres

Submitted photo

A bus driver’s mistakes, rather than a mechanical failure, caused a city bus to crash into a house in April, police are now saying.

Immediately following the incident, officers said they suspected a mechanical problem with the bus, but they later walked back the statement, saying the driver had made such a complaint but that it had not been confirmed.

The crash came at a time when the local union was complaining of poor working conditions at the Capital Area Transit System. Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union picketed outside a board meeting to advocate for better vehicle maintenance and asked international ATU representatives to bring their complaints to CATS leadership.

Maintenance records indicate the crashed bus had been reported for not having a working horn — in apparent violation of state law — but police “found no mechanical fault of the bus that would have caused (the wreck) to occur,” the crash report states.

Rather, they conclude, the driver took a wide left turn from the Acadian Thruway onto North Boulevard, causing the bus to run up on the curb. The driver, who was not wearing a seat belt, was jostled from her seat and could not reach the brake as the bus crashed into another vehicle and finally into a house. The driver and two riders were injured in the crash.

Officers tested the bus’s steering and remarked that it was able to maneuver the turn on several test runs.

Police have not cited the bus driver for the crash, said Cpl. L’Jean McKneely. She may face discipline from CATS, but the transit system has not completed its internal review, said Chief Operations Officer Don Palmer.

Local ATU President Katie Guy said Thursday she had not yet seen the police report and needed more information before commenting on the crash.

Palmer did acknowledge to the CATS Finance and Executive Committee on Thursday that the bus system has fallen behind on preventative maintenance.

Buses should visit the shop every 6,000 miles for minor repairs, fluid changes and inspection for any larger problems. However, some vehicles were going up to 15,000 miles between checkups.

CATS has begun bringing three buses in for preventative maintenance every night, and Palmer expects 80 percent of the fleet to be back up to standards by July.

The shop also is taking on monthly safety campaigns. In June, CATS is trying to fix all cracked windows and windshields, and have 90 percent of damaged vehicles repaired. Cracked windshields, which hamper driver visibility, was one of the maintenance and safety issues specifically addressed by the ATU, though Palmer said CATS began the effort before the union brought the matter to the board.

Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.