TriMet bus slams into stopped traffic on SE 122nd in Hazelwood

Passengers on the bus said they were alarmed, because their driver kept tailgating cars while driving the route. We’re not sure why it happened, but see what happens when a big bus rear-ends a Toyota …

This Toyota was southbound in slow traffic on SE 122nd Ave., until a TriMet bus slammed into it at SE Pine Street.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
When calling in the details of a thee-vehicle collision about 1:45 p.m. on April 12, police at the scene told dispatchers that the bus driver said a car stopped suddenly in front of him.

Several other witnesses, including bus passengers, disagreed with the bus driver’s assessment of the situation.

One car absorbs impact
Looking at the wreckage at the intersection of SE 122nd Avenue, at SE Pine Street, we were amazed that no one was killed. Debris was widely scattered; the full-size TriMet bus had popped up over the sidewalk, and come to rest, high-sided in the side yard of the corner house.

As we looked at a demolished black Toyota Corolla with California plates, an East Precinct Portland Police Bureau officer on-scene confirmed the obvious, saying, “The bus failed to stop in time to avoid a collision.”

Both the driver of the Toyota – and that of the Isuzu Trooper in front of it –were being transported for hospital medical evaluation by ambulance, shortly after we arrived.

“My wife was driving the white Isuzu,” a man told us as he secured her personal belongings. “My wife said the guy in the car behind her must have had his foot really down on the brakes, because he didn’t hit my wife all that hard. His car absorbed most of the impact.”

After collapsing the back end of the Toyota, TriMet bus had enough momentum to high-side it in this neighbor’s yard. It took an industrial-sized wrecker to drag it free.

A wild bus ride
We came upon two individuals, Michael and Maria, who asked if we were a TriMet official.

“I don’t know why they’re ignoring us,” Michael said. “After the wreck, the bus driver told us to fill out this [incident] card and not leave the bus until we handed it back to him. I wasn’t going to give him the card, so we waited on the bus until now.”

With incident card still in hand, Maria read to us what she wrote:

“Prior to the accident I was very scared.  I was very concerned about the bus driver’s driving. He was tailgating and running a very close to the cars in front of us. I had an idea before the accident happened, it was going to happen. Then, all of a sudden, when the accident happened, he was too close, and there was nothing he could do. He slammed right into them. It’s very scary.”

Michael confirmed, “Before the accident, she said ‘I don’t think we can stop; we’re not going to stop’. When she said it a third time, he (the bus driver) hit the brakes real hard, then took his foot off the bake and plowed right into the guy.”

Slow-going Saturday traffic
Two customers in the Tonkin Honda car lot across the street said they didn’t have a clear view of the accident, but confirmed that traffic had been stopped – backed up from a red light at SE Stark Street. Cars were starting to move slowly when the wreck occurred.

“It looked like the bus was going pretty fast, considering it was coming up to slow-moving traffic,” said another witness.

When we left the scene, Michael and Maria were still standing at the intersection, looking bewildered. “And worst of it is, they’re just leaving us here. What can we do?”

Because the collision wasn’t investigated, no tickets were issued and there was no official police report.

Accident not investigates
“The collision does not appear to have been investigated,” Sgt. Brian Schmautz, Portland Police Bureau spokesman, told us. “An officer filled out an exchange form and referred it TriMet Police.”

He did say the TriMet bus was driven by 51-year-old Uchenna Agum. Because the collision was not investigated, no citations were issued.

When we asked TriMet spokesperson Peggy LaPoint about the accident this week, she said “We have differing reports about the incident. We’re investigating the accident.”

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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