Evans City police charge bus driver with homicide in deadly crash with train
Bus passengers shouted warnings and a train whistle howled as a 31-car freight train plowed into a bus at an Evans City rail crossing last month, said police who watched surveillance video that led to charges against the bus driver on Thursday.
Evans City police Chief Joseph McCombs charged Frank Schaffner, 59, of Butler Township with multiple counts of involuntary manslaughter, homicide by vehicle, assault by vehicle, reckless endangerment and one count of failure to stop at a railroad crossing.
Schaffner, who is free on $15,000 unsecured bond, could not be reached for comment.
His attorney, Mike Pawk of Butler, said, “(Schaffner’s) upset, obviously. He feels badly for everyone that was injured and the people that have passed. That’s a heavy burden on someone.”
Video of the crash from cameras on the bus shows passengers braced for impact.
“As Schaffner approaches a clearly posted crossing, it’s obvious that passengers hear and see an oncoming train,” McCombs wrote in the criminal complaint. “Schaffner makes no attempt to slow and/or stop prior to crossing over the railroad, nor does he look left or right. Passengers are attempting to advise Schaffner that a train is coming.”
After the impact, the video shows Schaffner leaving the bus, trying to enter it from another side, but getting back in and saying, “Jesus Christ! Oh God, is there anybody hurt? There is no (expletive) warning light!”
He then calls 911.
Schaffner drove across the tracks after picking up passenger John Burgard at a house on Maple Avenue. He did not pause before the crossing. State law requires motorists to stop at rail crossings. The Maple Avenue crossing does not have gates or warning lights.
The collision threw passengers, many of them elderly or disabled, across the bus, which spun into a ravine.
Burgard’s mother, Frances, said on Thursday that her son remains in a Pittsburgh hospital recovering from his injuries.
She said Burgard, 42, who has Down syndrome, had been riding that bus route for more than 20 years and was headed to ARC of Butler County, a nonprofit that works with people who are mentally disabled, on the morning of the crash. She declined to comment further.
The crash killed passengers Claudette Miller, 91, of Callery and John Burkett, 88, of Zelienople. Eight other passengers were injured. Schaffner was treated and released from a hospital.
Schaffner was driving the 12-seat bus for the Butler Area Rural Transit, operated by the Alliance for Nonprofit Resources, a support agency for nonprofit groups.
At the accident scene, Schaffner told Officer Trina Loesch that “it was foggy and that one of the passengers on the bus was yelling to him and that he looked out the window and noticed the train and floored it,” according to the complaint.
Police said they found pills in two medication bottles belonging to Schaffner that did not match the bottle labels.
The criminal complaint did not say what toxicology tests showed.
Pawk said police told him on Wednesday that Schaffner’s toxicology tests were negative.
Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or [email protected].