September 17, 2007 | Mark Paradies

Monday Accident & Lessons Learned: When Should an Accident be a Criminal Act?

Here’s what I took away from a newspaper article:

A bus hits two pedestrians in one of DC’s most dangerous intersections.

The bus driver was in a hurry to make a left turn and cut off another driver.

The bus driver was looking at the car he cut off and didn’t see two pedestrians who were crossing in the cross walk with a green “walk” light.

The bus drivers hits the pedestrians. Both pedestrians die.

QUESTION 1: How much time should the bus driver spend in jail?

This is the sad question you must ask if accidents are criminal acts.

For details about this accident see:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/09/07/AR2007090702718.html

http://www.marylandaccidentlawblog.com/2007/09/dc_metrobus_driver_please_guil_1.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/19/AR2007031901618.html

A more detailed article about bus safety can be found at:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/24/AR2007022401561.html

HERE IS HOW REAL LIFE WORKS…

A fired DC bus driver doesn’t have much money. He can’t afford a high priced defense team. He has a public defender. The DA says that he can prove that the bus driver didn’t exercise “ordinary care”. Thus, the bus driver is guilty of negligent homicide.

The bus driver pleads guilty to both counts and faces up to 5 years in prison for each count. The prosecutor says that in return for the guilty plea, he will only ask for 18 months on each count (three years in prison).

According to the paper, this accident was one of eight crashes involving Metrobuses and pedestrians at the same intersection – Seventh and Pennsylvania – in two years. Eight accidents in two years …. Does this sound like it is one bad driver who should go to jail?

Besides the jail time for the driver, the corrective action noted in the paper was:

Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. ordered all 2,400 Metrobus drivers to undergo yearly safety training.

From the Metrobus web site I found the following:

Faced with an FY2008 budget shortfall of over $100 million, Catoe vowed to streamline Metro before asking the Board or customers for a fare increase. Also, immediately upon arriving at Metro, he announced his intention to improve safety within the Authority through a five-year program of cultural change. Catoe’s plan to improve safety will be to analyze safety measures already in place, identify areas that need improvement, generate solutions in weak areas, initiate new safety measures and create a new safety training program for supervisors. The safety enhancements will augment Metro’s existing safety program and place a greater emphasis on system safety for customers and employees.

The more extensive bus safety newspaper article also included this quote:

“Metro officials have known the dangers of the intersection at Seventh Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, where Sally Dean McGhee and Martha Stringer Schoenborn were struck by a Metrobus on Feb. 14. That accident was the eighth in two years at that intersection, but previous discussions between city and Metro officials went nowhere.”

“Two days after that accident, District transportation officials installed three new signs on traffic lights for vehicles heading northbound on Seventh Street. ‘Turning traffic must yield to pedestrians,’ the black-and-white signs say. City officials are also considering a left-turn arrow for vehicles turning onto westbound Pennsylvania Avenue, where the two women were killed as they walked in the crosswalk.”

I know a newspaper article isn’t much to go on. We certainly don’t have all the facts about this accident or the pedestrian safety history of this intersection. But what do you think …

Will the jail time for the driver and yearly safety training for other drivers stop the problems at this intersection?

Can more be learned from this accident?

Should 54 year old Victor Z. Kolako – the bus driver – spend three to ten years (or even 3 months) in prison for this accident?

Will the “look for pedestrian” signs make the bus driver’s job easier and keep pedestrians safer?

Is something wrong with the way we improve performance and our justice system?

I’d like to hear your opinions…

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