Bus driver suspended after light rail collision

February 10, 2010 9:27:10 AM PST
It's the tale of the tape. METRO showed us video of what it looked like when a bus and a light rail train collided on Monday. It sent a number of people to the hospital, and has the bus driver off the job. METRO says the bus driver ran a red light, causing the collision. That bus driver is no stranger to crashes behind the wheel.

Ironically it happened right in front of METRO headquarters. We've been asking for video from the train that shows the accident ever since it happened Monday afternoon. The agency released it on Tuesday night.

"It gets me to where I need to be every day," said Matthew Oliva.

It takes Oliva two hours and three buses to get home at night, and even though he's riding a day after a bus collided with a light rail train, he's not concerned.

"I don't have any trouble riding the bus at all," said Oliva.

Then again he hasn't seen video from the exact moment of impact on Monday afternoon. From inside the train, you can see passengers casually talking one second, then jolted from their seats the next. From the outside, you can see the train already in the intersection at St. Joseph. The bus crashing into it knocking it off the tracks. Nine people were rushed to the hospital and many more shaken.

"Everybody flew back and started screaming," said one eyewitness.

There were five cameras that recorded the accident but METRO didn't any of need them to determine what happened. Officials say the bus driver ran a red light. He's been suspended without pay. Although the on-board video from the accident shows a traffic light in front of the light-rail train as red, the trains do not follow traditional traffic signals, according to a METRO spokesperson. They have their own signals. In the video, you can see a vertical bar that gives the train the right-of-way.

METRO says none of the injuries from Monday's accident are considered life-threatening. But at least two of the patients have contacted Houston personal injury attorney Terry Bryant. One of them is said to require more medical treatment. But METRO is protected by what's called sovereign immunity. Its liability is limited to $300,000 for a single accident. In this case, that would be divided among nine people and would include medical care.

"It's a public entity, and taxpayer supported, but these people have real injuries and deserve to be able to recover for those injuries," Bryant said.

Bryant said he expects to be contacted by more passengers from this accident.

Though Matthew Oliva doesn't seem deterred by the accident caught on camera, he does have one basic question.

"How do you miss a train?" he asked.

Reginald Rideout, 50, is the bus driver who has been suspended without pay pending the outcome of an investigation. He's been a bus driver for METRO for 10 years and in that time, he's been involved in three accidents including Monday's collision. The agency says the two previous accidents were minor, but all three have been his fault.

In 2005, 13 Undercover reported on pedestrians hit by METRO buses. Two of those accidents were fatalities. The agency distributed a safety training video to drivers. Supervisors and safety personnel were assigned to monitor bus drivers on the job downtown. We're told by an agency spokesperson that policy probably hasn't changed.