Transit drivers charged with horseplay in crash

AP News
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Posted: Nov 12, 2014 7:25 PM

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Two Pittsburgh-area transit drivers have been charged with recklessly driving side by side — so close that their buses scraped — before one of the empty, off-duty vehicles crashed over an interstate embankment.

Attorneys for the Port Authority of Allegheny County drivers, Juliann Maier, 46, of Ross Township, and Thomas Frauens, 56, of Pittsburgh, have previously denied the drivers behaved recklessly before Maier's bus crashed Sept. 22. Maier's attorney planned a news conference later Wednesday to address the charges and Frauen's attorney, Bruce Carsia, told The Associated Press his client "had nothing to do with the accident."

"I was surprised that they filed criminal charges," Carsia said. "I believe this was an accident and that the female bus driver lost control of her bus."

But Port Authority police said surveillance video and tracking equipment shows the buses were driving up to 65 mph in a 55 mph zone, and paint scrapes on both buses suggest the vehicles bumped or scraped one another before the 2 p.m. crash on Interstate 279, according to affidavits filed with the criminal complaints.

Frauens allegedly waved to Maier as he passed her bus on the left, then held one hand in the air and made a "buggy whip" gesture before she passed him, according to a camera on Frauens' bus. Air pressure from the buses driving closely side-by-side even forced open a window on Frauens' bus, county detectives determined.

Maier's attorney, Joel Sansone, has alleged that her bus crashed due to a mechanical problem that caused it to begin shaking and become difficult to steer. He accused the Port Authority of pushing for the criminal investigation to cover up a problem with the bus.

"We have been contacted by innumerable drivers who have told us this bus was a walking or a rolling death trap," Sansone said. "This bus should have been taken out of service a long time ago along with all of the other buses of this same make and model."

Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said in a statement after the charges were filed that "the information provided in the affidavits filed today speaks for itself."

Both drivers, who remain suspended with pay, were allowed to surrender for arraignment Wednesday.

Maier is charged with four counts of reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor, and four traffic citations. The endangerment counts stem from four drivers of other vehicles who were allegedly put at risk by the buses. Three drivers were on the interstate, and one who was on the road below told police his vehicle was struck by debris as Maier's bus came to rest nearby.

Frauens' faces the same charges, except he's also charged with leaving the scene of the accident; one citations is for allegedly failing to immediately report the crash to police.

The criminal complaints said an "extensive" review of county 911 records, phone calls and bus radio communications showed neither driver reported the crash.

Preliminary hearings were to be scheduled after the drivers were arraigned later Wednesday.