A 55-year-old man died Wednesday, one day after a Southern California Rapid Transit District bus ran over him in the Los Feliz area.
Police arrested the RTD bus driver, Cathy Miles, 38, of Pasadena, on suspicion of felony hit-and-run driving. Police said the man's death would not prompt them to seek a stiffer charge against Miles, who was released Wednesday morning from Sybil Brand Institute after posting $1,000 bail.
The dead man, identified by hospital officials as Douglas Caldwell, with no known address, suffered eight broken ribs and a collapsed lung when Miles' bus apparently ran over him at the intersection of Franklin and Vermont avenues at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Caldwell died of complications from the injuries at 11 a.m Wednesday at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, a hospital spokesman said.
The accident that claimed Caldwell is the latest in a spate of at least a dozen crashes and mishaps since mid-March that have resulted in injuries to more than 100 RTD passengers. The rash of accidents has raised concerns about the drug-use and safety habits of bus operators.
In one case, a bus driver was fired for cocaine use after 23 passengers were hurt when she rammed her vehicle into another RTD bus at 5th and Main streets on May 12. In another case, a trainee driver was fired after she overturned her bus on the Hollywood Freeway, injuring 27 passengers.
Public alarm over those and other accidents--paired with scrutiny by the media--prompted the RTD last month to enact a stricter drug-testing program for its 8,900 employees, and ask a panel of seven transportation safety experts to review its accident record and safety training program.
RTD officials said Wednesday that 65 employees--between 58 and 60 of them bus drivers--have been fired or have resigned after failing drug tests since September, 1985. Officials also say the district's accident record is improving, with an average of 4.4 accidents per 100,000 miles driven for the year ending June 30. That is down from a rate of 4.9 the year before.
A recent Times study of RTD records, however, shows that the accident rate is considerably higher--6.4 per 100,000--for the 10 most heavily traveled routes, which carry 30% of the system's passengers.
In the incident Tuesday, police said Miles told them she was driving north on Vermont Avenue and had stopped at Franklin Avenue to take on eight passengers. She said she shut the doors on Caldwell because he was staggering and holding a wine bottle.
As Miles drove away, Caldwell began pounding the side of the bus and apparently fell under its double right rear wheels, which ran over his chest, police said.
Miles told police she didn't realize she had injured the man and continued on her route. "She looked in her rear view . . . and she saw him sit up," said Los Angeles Police Detective Tony Bartolotto. "She said he didn't appear to be injured, just drunk."
Witnesses called police and Caldwell was rushed to the hospital where he was operated on for several hours for removal of part of his collapsed right lung.
Police arrested Miles after RTD officials identified her as the bus driver at the time on Line 180, which traverses Hollywood, Glendale, Pasadena and Altadena. At the request of police, Miles returned to the intersection at 10 p.m. in an RTD car.
Police said Miles has no other accidents on her driving record. A check of Department of Motor Vehicles records for the past three years showed she received a ticket while driving an RTD bus on Dec. 31 for failing to obey traffic directions and unsafe passing of vehicles on the roadway. RTD spokesman Mark Littman declined comment on the circumstances surrounding the ticket given to Miles on Dec. 31.
Miles was administered a Breathalyzer test by police Tuesday night and was not intoxicated, police said. A blood test showed Caldwell was intoxicated, with a 0.4% blood alcohol reading, police said.
Miles has been suspended without pay until investigations by the Los Angeles Police Department and the RTD have been completed, Littman said.
Littman said that, under RTD rules and procedures for bus drivers, Miles had the right to keep Caldwell off the bus if he appeared "unable to care" for himself, was "behaving offensively or could imperil the safety or comfort of other passengers."
He also said Wednesday that he did not know when the last time was that a pedestrian was struck and killed by an RTD bus, but that such accidents are "rare."
The case against Miles will be forwarded to the district attorney's office for review, and Bartolotto said it is unlikely that police will press for stiffer charges of vehicular manslaughter against her.
Bartolotto said vehicular manslaughter charges would apply if police could prove that Miles had been violating other traffic laws--such as speeding or driving while intoxicated--when she ran over Caldwell.
Although she allegedly left the scene of the accident, he said there is no evidence that Miles was doing anything wrong when Caldwell fell under the bus tires, he said.