RTD's two fatal accidents in three days: "We take them very personally," spokesman says

It's been a grim past few days for RTD.

On Saturday, a bus ran a red light near East 8th Avenue and Lincoln Street, smashing into a vehicle containing Carla Miranda and Dustin Peletier, both 29, who were killed in the crash. Then, yesterday, another bus ran over a thus-far-unidentified 78-year-old man near Mississippi and Peoria, unbeknownst to the operator, who kept driving for well over a mile before being informed about what had happened.

Scott Reed, RTD's assistant general manager of communications, knows that some people will equate these incidents -- but, he says, "I don't think the two can be tied together. They're completely different situations, with completely different sets of employees. And we have a very good safety record."

Reed updates both situations:

"The accident on Saturday, police are still investigating -- and they've obtained video from two different sets of cameras on-board the bus," he says. "They have what's called a drive camera, which takes video images through the windshield -- so it's what the bus operator is seeing. And then there's also the standard interior-surveillance camera system that is on all RTD buses. Police obtained the hard drives from those on Saturday and viewed them yesterday, from what I understand."

The driver's name has not been released thus far. However, Reed points out, she was employed by Veolia Transportation, which has operated under a contract with RTD for the past five years. An investigation by the Denver Post documents "at least three incidents over the past four years -- including Saturday's accident -- in which authorities and witnesses say the company's drivers have run red lights and collided with other vehicles."

Video was also obtained from the bus involved in yesterday's accident, but "the police have stated that they have not found any eyewitnesses who saw the accident either on-board the bus or outside the bus," Reed says. "And the bus operator [an RTD employee] was not ware the bus had come into contact with a pedestrian. He continued on his route, some nineteen blocks and fourteen bus stops past where the scene of the accident was. Police contacted our dispatch center and asked them to have the bus stop, so they could catch up and speak with the operator. And until then, the bus operator was completely unaware that there had been any type of accident."

The proximity of these twin tragedies is unique, Reed maintains.

"In nearly twenty years, I can't recall any back-to-back accidents like this," he allows. "And I've talked to operations folks who've been doing this a lot longer than I have, and they couldn't remember any such incidents like this, either.

"We take them very personally," he continues. "We have a great deal of pride in the service we offer every day, and we believe that we have the best transit system in the country -- so it's difficult when there is any type of an accident."

How is RTD dealing with the aftermath?

"Today, we're reemphasizing with all our operators and operations personnel that safety is our number-one priority," Reed replies. "There's a data-message unit on-board each bus, and we're periodically sending that message throughout the day. And then at pull-out, we're having a street supervisor or division manager touch base with each bus operator to remind them about safety, and also to let them know that we're all in this together."

Internal reviews are underway as well. "We do that whenever there's a serious accident," he stresses. "We take a look at what the investigations find, and then we look at whether or not anything could have or should have been done differently to improve safety. There are two investigations in these cases -- police investigations and our internal investigations. And we'll look at them and then look at everything we do on a regular basis, to see what we can do to improve."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts