Wednesday, May 19, 2010

TriMet bus driver cleared in fatal April crosswalk crash, victim's father says

buscrashsite.jpegView full sizeA Multnomah County grand jury has found no criminal wrongdoing by a TriMet bus driver who hit five pedestrians in a downtown Portland crosswalk in late April, according to the father of one of the women killed.

jeneehammelcoby.jpgView full sizeJenee Hammel and her son, Cobydaniellesalerobertgittings.jpgView full sizeDanielle Sale and Robert Erik GittingsSandi L. Day, 48, faced charges of criminally negligent homicide in the deaths of Danielle Sale, 22, of Vancouver and Jeneé Hammel, 26, of Gresham, who died under the wheels of the 17-ton bus.

“This is the biggest joke ever,” said Robert Hammel, Jeneé Hammel’s father. “How do you find no charges at all against someone who took what looks like an illegal turn and plowed into five young people who had the right of way?”

The decision comes nearly a month after the crash, which prompted TriMet to start a top-to-bottom safety review of its training and operating policies.

Rain, sun and traffic have nearly washed away the skid marks and spraypaint left by investigators at Northwest Broadway and Glisan Street.

The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office has yet to release a statement on the grand jury’s decision, Robert Hammel said he received a call with the decision shortly after 11 a.m. “This isn’t right at all,” he said.

The next step, he said, was to get the evidence as it was presented to the grand jury and possibly move forward with a wrongful death lawsuit.

The No. 9 bus struck the five pedestrians in the marked Broadway crossing shortly before midnight on April 24.

During their investigation, Portland police said that if Day dropped off a passenger on the north curb line along Northwest Glisan before turning left onto southbound Broadway, the bus would have had to cross over the second westbound lane of Glisan.

That would have been an illegal turn, and investigators are trying to determine whether Day was looking forward at the time of the collision or checking traffic behind her to the left.

Sale and Hammel, the Gresham mother of a 2-year-old son, had just left Harvey’s Comedy Club with Robert Erik Gittings, 22, of Boise, Ryan Hammel, 28, and his wife, Jamie Hammel, 23, of Portland. Jeneé Hammel was Ryan's sister.

They were among more than 250 fans who had spilled out onto the sidewalk along Northwest Glisan Street after the night’s last act. They walked west, toward Ryan Hammel's car.

No one drank more than two alcoholic drinks, Robert Hammel said.

At Broadway, they were part of a procession of people who stopped to wait for the walk signal before stepping into the crosswalk. Their car waited on the other side of the street.

Ryan Hammel was leading the way, his dad said, followed by Sale and Gittings, holding hands, and then by Jamie and Jeneé Hammel.

"Ryan was pulling the keys from his pocket," Robert Hammel said, "when he heard something horrible and turned around."

The bus had entered the crosswalk as it turned left from westbound Glisan Street onto southbound Broadway.

Day had a green light and the pedestrians had a walk signal, said Sgt. Greg Stewart, a police spokesman.

Jamie and Jeneé Hammel were the first to get hit, knocked to the street by the side of the bus, Robert Hammel said. The 40-foot bus rolled over Jeneé Hammel and she ended up pinched behind a back wheel. Gittings and Sale were reportedly hit head on and wound up under the front of the bus.

Ryan Hammel was hit and made contact with the driver while his feet dragged on the pavement.

Oregon’s largest transit agency has already begun to change some routes and eliminate tricky turns downtown. Taking a cue from other U.S. cities where pedestrians have been struck by buses, TriMet says it may soon require bus to honk before making left hand turns.

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