DA to charge both drivers in Port Authority bus crash
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said both bus drivers involved in a dramatic crash off the Parkway North will be charged next week, but the attorney for the injured driver maintains she was the victim of a major mechanical failure.
Zappala said Wednesday he expected to file charges next week, which could include several counts each of reckless endangerment, after a month and a half of investigation into the rollover wreck off Interstate 279.
Juliann Maier, 46, of Ross was driving an empty Port Authority bus south on I-279 near another empty bus being driven by Thomas Frauens, 56, of Brookline on Sept. 22. Maier’s bus went through a guardrail and rolled down a hillside onto a residential street, leaving her seriously injured. Frauens stopped on I-279 but resumed his route without reporting the incident.
Joel Sansone, Maier’s attorney, said he is disappointed Zappala plans to file charges despite his efforts to persuade him a problem with the bus’s steering caused the crash.
“We’ve provided him with direct evidence this crash was not her fault, that the bus suffered a catastrophic mechanical failure while she operated it,” Sansone said.
Frauens’ attorney, Bruce Carsia, could not be reached for comment. Frauens has denied the Port Authority’s account.
Port Authority officials said the two were speeding and making playful gestures to each other until the buses bumped, sending Maier’s bus off the highway and tumbling down onto Evergreen Way.
Zappala said accident reconstruction teams from Port Authority and Pittsburgh police have gone over the scene. Police stopped traffic on the highway several times the afternoon of Oct. 19 to investigate the crash.
“They could find no mechanical problem with the bus,” Zappala said. “They could find no mechanical problem with the steering mechanism.”
Sansone said investigators denied his requests to have his own experts examine the wreckage of the bus while Port Authority is working to replace parts on similar buses — parts he said caused Maier’s crash.
“Repairs are being done quietly, secretly by Port Authority,” Sansone said, citing photos he’d obtained of buses being worked on.
Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said sway bars are part of a vehicle’s suspension system, not its steering or brakes, and get replaced on a regular basis. The replacements Sansone referred to were routine maintenance, he said, not a result of the accident or its investigation.
The agency has stood by its version of events leading up to the crash.
Sansone said he plans to sue Port Authority, both for hampering his investigation and for ruining his client’s reputation. Maier was released from the hospital after her injuries from the crash were treated but required several surgeries to correct injuries to a hand, he said.
Staff writer Patrick Cloonan contributed to this report. Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or [email protected].