METRO rider claims crash broke his back

March 17, 2010 3:49:42 PM PDT
You've seen the dramatic video of the collision -- a METRO bus rammed by a METRO light rail train in downtown Houston. Now for the first time, we're hearing from the bus driver and a man who had to be hauled off on a stretcher after a terrifying ride on the light rail. We first brought you news of the crash on Monday. It was the second time in just over a month a bus crashed into a light rail train right in front of METRO headquarters. Several people were left injured in both incidents.

Now the person METRO says was responsible for Monday's crash is talking, as well as a man whose back was crushed in the impact.

"It was scary. I mean, I didn't expect to be on the train and be on an accident like that," said Erik Simpson.

When the METRO bus and light rail train collided on Monday, Erik Simpson was simply trying to get home. He was riding the train on Monday afternoon after enjoying a trip to Hermann Park on his day off and enjoying the spring weather. He was in the second light rail car.

"I did not see the bus hit the train. I just felt the train jerk. I didn't have to prepare myself for anything," said Simpson.

However, in an instant, his life changed. From Sky-Eye HD, you could see the ambulance transporting Simpson to the hospital. Doctors diagnosed him with a broken vertebra. The emergency room doctor told him he needs more treatment.

"They said I need to go see an orthopedic surgeon, can you do that? No ma'am, because I don't have insurance," said Simpson.

Without any health insurance, the construction worker is left wondering how he'll be able to pay his medical bills. His attorney says he's filing a lawsuit against METRO. The agency can't comment on that.

An on-board camera on the METRO bus shows other cars stopped at the red light while the bus kept going. It was traveling 29 miles an hour when it hit the train. In fact, investigators believe the light was red for 10 seconds before the driver entered the intersection at Main and St. Joseph. The train had a vertical bar which means go.

METRO say the crash video puts the blame squarely on bus driver Debra Harrison. When reached on the phone, Harrison disputed that claim.

"The light was green. I also have a witness, but I didn't get his name. I had 19 stitches put in my arm," said Harrison.

The bus driver has been suspended without pay until the investigation is complete.

METRO says it will take everything into consideration, but is confident in the cause of the crash.

"We're looking at every possibility of what might have occurred there and what might not have occurred there. We're trying to take a look at it, understand it, and do what we need to do from what we find," said Andrew Skabowski, METRO Associate VP of Operations.

For Simpson and his attorney though, it's not clear just how the medical bills will be paid.

"What frustrated him is that he needed help, and METRO just totally put him back on the street," said attorney Mo Aziz.

Simpson says he cannot go back to work with a fractured vertebra. METRO says he can file a claim to get some of his medical bills paid for.

METRO is protected by state law capping the amount he could receive in damages at $100,000.

This is the second train-bus collision in just over a month, and both at the same intersection.


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