Mechanical inspections found no problems with a Sound Transit bus that crashed into a sport-utility vehicle and killed a couple along Interstate 405 last month, the Washington State Patrol (WSP) says.
“Everything appears to be in working order,” Sgt. Jerry Cooper of the WSP’s major- accident investigation team said Thursday.
That finding contradicts a comment by the bus driver, who blamed the May 6 crash on brake failure. However, Cooper said, it will be months before any decision is made about citations or charges. The driver is on unpaid leave.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” he said. For instance, Cooper said it remains unclear why the bus kept going 3,900 feet after impact, something he’s never encountered before.
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The Route 535 bus to Lynnwood was traveling uphill at a left-side exit to the Totem Lake Transit Center in Kirkland, where witnesses say it ran a red light and hit a Ford Escape. After impact, the bus continued on a downhill ramp a half-mile toward northbound I-405.
Robert and Elizabeth Rotta of Bellevue, who had been married 54 years, died in the Escape, which was being driven by their son.
The bus driver, Aleksandr Rukhlin
, 54, of Everett, passed toxicology tests, Cooper said. The roadway and signals were in good condition, Cooper said.
Rukhlin, who has not driven transit vehicles since the crash, recalled Thursday in a phone interview: “I just pushed on the pedal. There was nothing, I couldn’t stop the bus. The air pressure was fine — I don’t know why it didn’t work.” After impact, Rukhlin said, “I was confused … I lowed down the gear, and it couldn’t stop the bus.”
His union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1576 based in Everett, said it has no comment at this time.
A few days after the crash, Sound Transit released a routine inspection report from about a week earlier, saying there was a complaint the bus pulled to the right while braking. A mechanic found no pulling, and the brake pads were a quarter-inch thick, beyond the minimum standard. The bus, a 2008 Gillig Phantom, had 298,072 miles on it. The model is rated to last 12 years or 500,000 miles.
The bus shows green-and-blue Sound Transit colors but is operated under contract by Community Transit, which subcontracts with the company First Transit for operations and maintenance. This was the first fatality since ST Express service began in 1999.
Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @mikelindblom