2 Port Authority bus drivers charged in Parkway crash
Port Authority police charged two bus drivers Wednesday, saying they have evidence one encouraged the other one to race using a “horse-whipping” gesture and their speeding buses bumped, sending one careening through an Interstate 279 guardrail in September.
Drivers Thomas Frauens, 56, of Brookline and Juliann Maier, 46, of Ross turned themselves in for arraignment at Pittsburgh Municipal Court after police filed 12-page criminal complaints against them stemming from the Sept. 22 crash. Maier, recovering from her injuries, used a wheelchair to surrender.
Police say Frauens made “horse-whipping” and “buggy whip” gestures as the two reached speeds of 65 mph in a 55 mph zone and “waved on” Maier as she passed him, according to a police affidavit. Maier swerved three times before striking Frauens’ bus and veering across three lanes of traffic and over the hillside, according to the affidavit.
Police said paint from each bus was found on the other, confirming the collision.
Frauens stopped, got out, then continued to his 18 Manchester route without reporting the crash.
Maier’s attorney, Joel Sansone, lambasted Port Authority police and District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. for approving the charges. Sansone said Maier’s bus was in the middle of a catastrophic breakdown, which caused the crash, and that she wasn’t speeding.
“This bus was a rolling death trap. They put my client in a death trap and this district attorney thinks this is the person to charge,” Sansone said. “My client has never been in an accident in 28 years. They want us to believe that suddenly she wanted to play tag (with a bus).”
Sansone accused Zappala, whom he referred to as “your DA with his political ambitions,” of refusing to fully investigate the bus’ mechanical problems before approving the charges.
Zappala’s spokesman, Mike Manko, fired back, saying Port Authority police have excellent officers who are well qualified to handle the investigation.
“This was a thorough and complete investigation and the affidavit sets forth a number of reasons, including objective video evidence, detailing why the charges were filed,” Manko said. “The truth of this matter will play out in a court of law and not in the media.”
Frauens declined to comment. His attorney, Bruce Carsia, said he was surprised at the charges and said it’s common for drivers to wave or gesture at each other.
“There’s no evidence he caused the other bus to go through the guardrail,” Carsia said. “(After the crash) he had to pull over and he walked back up (the highway). When he did that, he saw she was out of the bus and people were administering to her. I don’t believe there’s any duty for him to climb down the hill.”
Frauens faces 10 charges, including a felony count of leaving the scene of an accident involving death or personal injury, five misdemeanors and summary counts. Maier faces eight charges — four misdemeanors and four summaries.
No passengers were aboard the buses. Maier was treated in Allegheny General Hospital for multiple broken bones from which she is healing; she can’t walk, Sansone said.
“The information provided in the affidavits filed today speaks for itself. For now, we decline to comment further as the two employees involved have certain rights under our labor contract,” Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said.
The drivers are suspended with pay, he said.
“It’s a tragedy. It’s very upsetting,” said Ron Maier, Juliann Maier’s husband. “This is ridiculous. She did nothing wrong.”
Port Authority police relied on cameras and information recorders in Frauens’ bus to gather the video and speed data. Ritchie declined to release the video publicly.
According to the affidavit, at 2:05:38 p.m. Frauens waved goodbye to Maier as he passed her in the left lane. He took his right hand off the steering wheel seconds later and did a “buggy whip” gesture as he was driving 63.2 mph. Frauens then waved on Maier and she passed him, driving faster than 64.8 mph.
The two buses were so close that the air pressure between them forced a ventilation window on Frauens’ bus to pop open. Police said an inspection of Maier’s bus found a broken left tie rod that is consistent with it breaking during the crash and not because of excessive wear.
Frauens told police he heard the sound of screeching tires and no longer saw Maier’s bus in his mirrors. He said he pulled over and realized her bus had left the road. He denied the buses made contact.
“He then noticed multiple vehicles stopping to render aid, so he got back onto his bus and continued onto his route,” according to the affidavit.
Maier told police she was traveling on I-279 when she came around a bend, lost control and began to swerve. Maier said she did not remember much after the bus went over the hill, according to the affidavit.
Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or firstname.lastname@example.org.