News

Lebanon Transit bus and passengers go on a wild ride

Written by Les Stewart and John Latimer/Lebanon Daily News | Aug 19, 2016 9:42 AM

A series of crashes resulted in minor injuries to the driver and 17 passengers

(Lebanon) -- Seventeen people on a Lebanon Transit bus suffered minor injuries late Wednesday night in a string of crashes that began on the city's south side and left behind what one emergency official called "a trail of disaster."

The LT bus carrying 23 passengers, many of them employees of Hersheypark, was traveling east on Chestnut Street at 11:36 p.m. when its front left corner was struck by a Jeep driven by 33-year-old Jose Ortero-Perez Jr. of North Cornwall Township. Police say Ortero-Perez was traveling south on South 10th Street and ran a red light. Ortero-Perez, who was charged with a red light violation and for driving without a valid driver's license, was not injured, police said.

The bus, driven by 43-year-old Dawn Fradera of Lebanon, continued east on Chestnut Street, traveling through a red light as it made a left turn to head north on South Ninth Street, police said. A vehicle traveling north on South Ninth Street swerved to avoid the bus and crashed into the Cahill Furniture building on the northeast corner of South Ninth and Chestnut Streets. The driver, 27 year old Meghan Perez of Lebanon, was not injured but the building sustained minor damage to an entrance.

According to police, the bus continued traveling north on Ninth Street, crossing the bridge over the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks, with its right wheels on the sidewalk and the left wheels brushing the curb. Damage to the bridge was minor but a structural engineer had been contacted to evaluate it, police said.

As the bus ascended the bridge it is believed to have been traveling as slow as 5 mph, a speed that allowed a passenger door to be opened, which engaged a locking mechanism on the rear wheels before it crested the bridge. The locking mechanism does not have enough pressure to stop a moving bus, police said, but it did cause the tires to leave a skid mark of more than 500-feet on the sidewalk.

The bus continued traveling north down the bridge, when Fradera decided to turn onto Church Street. As the bus made the turn it's rear corner struck Covenant United Methodist Church at the southeast corner of North Ninth and Church streets, damaging a yew bush and a  brick foundation that surrounds it. The bus also struck a fire hydrant, ripping it from its foundation, and clipped a parked van, causing its rear window to shatter.

Desperate to stop the bus, police Chief Todd Breiner said Fradera saw a roll-off Dumpster parked on the south side of Church Street just west of Gannon Street and intentionally drove into it. The collision pushed the Dumpster forward about 100 feet, causing it to hit a utility pole and a residence at the southeast corner of Church and Gannon streets.

"My understanding is that she purposely drove into the Dumpster to stop the bus," he said.

Fradera and 16 passengers suffered minor injuries and were taken to the Good Samaritan Hospital for treatment, police said.

The damage to the house was minor and limited to the porch, said Duane Trautman, Lebanon city fire commissioner.

"It was a trail of disaster," he said. "It's a wonder more people weren't hurt."

Cathy Diaz and her husband, Luis Arroyo, were asleep in their apartment at 827 Church St., directly across from where the Dumpster was parked, when they were awakened by the crash. It was the couple's van that was also damaged in the crash.

"He thought it was thunderstorm at first," Diaz said about her husband.

When they ran outside they saw pandemonium.

"A lot of people were crying and the bus driver looked terrified," Diaz said.

An investigation is ongoing to determine if it was driver error or a vehicle malfunction that caused the bus to continue to move. The driver has claimed she lost her brakes in the first crash, said Breiner. Video and audio evidence from the bus will be reviewed, and the bus will be inspected , he said.

"I do know that there is a parking brake that can be engaged as an emergency brake. My understanding, again preliminarily, is that she told the officer she was trying to engage that," Breiner said. "Her statement also said she was trying to stop the bus by engaging the brake pedal."

Although the cause must still be determined, Briener credited the driver for ending the dramatic incident without more serious injuries or damage.

"From what I'm being told the driver did a good job of maintaining control of the bus and operating it in the fashion that she did, to lessen any injuries. It could have obviously been a lot worse," he said.

Lebanon Transit is cooperating with the police investigation and Executive Director Teri Giurintano issued a statement Thursday afternoon explaining that  LT is working with its insurance agency to hire a third party to conduct an investigation.

"Lebanon Transit has an excellent safety record and prides itself in providing safe transportation to our customers," Giurintano's statement said in part. "Our thoughts are with the customers, their families and the Lebanon community. The safety of our customers and our employees is always our top priority."

Because there was no evidence Fradera was impaired, a blood test was not conducted by police, Breiner said.

Blood tests are, however, conducted on public transit drivers after crashes as a matter of federal law. Giurintano said Thursday afternoon that she had not received the results on Fradera's but expected it to be clean because she has a stellar driving record and has always passed the random drug tests every driver is required to take.

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