Second driver in bus crash says Port Authority account a ‘farce’
A bus driver whom Port Authority officials said left the scene of a colleague’s major bus accident on Monday on I-279 without reporting it said Wednesday that the agency’s version of what happened is a farce.
“All what’s been said so far is a total lie,” driver Thomas Frauens, 56, of Brookline told the Tribune-Review. “It’s a total farce what they’re saying.”
Frauens declined to delve into details of the accident, pending completion of a Port Authority police investigation.
Frauens was driving alongside fellow driver Juliann Maier, 46, of Ross, inbound along 279 just after 2 p.m. when Maier’s bus left a long stretch of skid marks on the highway, crashed through a guardrail and rolled down an embankment onto Evergreen Road. Maier was injured, and the 15-ton, 35-foot bus sustained heavy damage. No passengers were on board either bus.
Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said this week that video cameras on the male driver’s bus show the drivers were making playful hand gestures to each other as they sped down the freeway, driving recklessly. The buses bumped, he said, sending one through the guardrail.
Ritchie said the video shows the male driver stopped, then left without reporting the accident.
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 President Steve Palonis said he viewed surveillance video and said he thinks a mechanical issue could be to blame.
“I didn’t see any reckless driving,” Palonis said. “I think they waved to each other. There was nothing reckless. Neither bus was above the speed limit.”
He said, “Every day bus drivers pass each other and wave. Some buses are faster than others, so they might say, ‘Come on,’ but I think something mechanical may have happened with that bus.”
Palonis said he spoke with both drivers.
Maier told him that as the other driver began to pass her, “her wheel started shaking violently, and the back end was swinging back and forth,” Palonis said.
“Both of them said the same thing — they don’t know if they made contact,” he added.
Palonis said it would be possible for the buses to tap each other without the drivers knowing because of their length.
Ritchie declined to comment on Palonis’ remarks.
Both drivers are suspended with pay pending the outcome of the Port Authority police investigation, which could result in criminal charges, Ritchie said. He said there also is an internal operations investigation.
Maier remained in Allegheny General Hospital in stable condition, officials said.
Court records show Pittsburgh police cited Maier in 2011 for not obeying traffic control devices while driving a Port Authority bus 28.9 mph in a 15 mph school zone in the 3800 block of Brighton Road. She pleaded guilty and was fined $110.
Port Authority police cited Frauens in 2011 with accidents involving damage to an attended vehicle or property and careless driving, though it was not immediately clear whether he was driving a bus at the time. Both charges were withdrawn, court records show.
Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or [email protected].