Bus accident victim identified

Margaret McCluskey was a journalist, Peace Corps volunteer

By Craig Brown, Columbian metro editor

Published:

Updated: December 3, 2011, 6:17 PM

 
photoMargaret McCluskey, who died in a pedestrian-bus accident, was a former journalist and Peace Corps volunteer.
photoPolice, firefighters and paramedics respond to a fatal accident involving a pedestrian and a C-Tran bus at the intersection of 8th Street and Washington Street in downtown Vancouver, Friday, December 2, 2011. (Steven Lane/The Columbian)

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photoC-Tran driver Al Purvis sits on the steps of his bus after Friday's fatal accident. (Steven Lane/The Columbian)

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The victim of Friday’s accident involving a C-Tran bus and a pedestrian has been identified as Margaret McCluskey.

McCluskey, 88, was a former journalist and Peace Corps volunteer. She lived in the Esther Short Commons apartment complex on West Eighth Street, across from the park.

The accident occurred just before 11:30 a.m. on a bright, sunny, cool Friday as C-Tran operator Al Purvis, a 17-year veteran driver, was driving C-Tran’s popular No. 4 bus — a hybrid 40-footer — on the last leg of its route from Westfield Vancouver mall along Fourth Plain Boulevard, through downtown Vancouver and on to the Delta Park MAX station.

As he went to make a left turn from westbound Eighth Street onto southbound Washington Street, he struck McCluskey in the south crosswalk, according to police. She was dragged under the left rear wheels of the bus and was killed instantly.

It’s not yet known how Purvis failed to see McCluskey in the crosswalk, though a witness said he was turning into a bright wintry sun. Likewise, it hasn’t been determined if the traffic signal was green. However, at that intersection, both a green light and a “walk” message would have been displayed automatically at the same time.

Police and C-Tran are continuing to investigate. Purvis has been placed on paid leave while the investigation is conducted.

Family members said McCluskey had suffered some recent vision problems and had been in an automobile accident not too long ago.

Her death brought a sudden end to a remarkable life.

Her daughter, Susan Swickard, said her mother was a Missouri native who moved West in 1980. She said she preferred the Pacific Northwest for its natural beauty and its liberal politics.

She was a former newspaper reporter, U.S. Forest Service employee, community activist and volunteer who enlisted in the Peace Corps at age 65 and was posted to the North African nation of Tunisia.

“In the Peace Corps, Mom’s assignment was to teach the home arts to girls and young women,” Swickard said in an email. “The Peace Corps trained her in farming, goat raising and milking, bee-keeping and some Arabic. She already knew about canning and cooking. She became ill after a few months in Tunisia and had to come back to recover.”

Swickard said her mother always had a project, the latest of which was making sure the sidewalk around Esther Short Commons was kept clean. She and a friend policed it twice a day, using a reaching tool to pick up the litter. In letters to The Columbian, she criticized litterbugs and wrote about the importance of keeping trash and pollution out of the Columbia River.

“Daily I see cigarette butts flipped, sucker sticks tossed, and wrappers and papers discarded with careless indifference on the sidewalk in front of my home, Esther Short Commons, in downtown Vancouver. Does that sidewalk residue not get swept into the street, leak into the pipes and drain into our river?” she asked. “Stop trashing our public walkways.”

She recently facilitated a new effort to post no-parking overnight signs in front of the complex, in order to allow the street sweeper to get close to the curb.

In a July 6 letter published in The Columbian, she extolled the virtues of C-Tran.

“As a newcomer to Vancouver’s bus system, I am amazed at C-Tran’s special services, i.e., space and courteous driver-assistance for wheelchair-bound and bicycle-riding passengers. Additionally, I am enriched by real savings when C-Tran buses transport me all over Vancouver, and beyond, for example, to Portland, Washougal and Camas. Imagine this: a senior citizen can ride all day, every day of the month for the price of an ID pass costing $27,” she wrote.

McCluskey also enjoyed walking, and frequented the pedestrian walkway along the Columbia River from downtown to Beaches restaurant.

Susan’s husband, Joe Swickard, noted that his mother-in-law was an active member of her community until her last moment of life.

“If it was between a nursing home and getting hit by a bus, she would have chosen the bus every damn time,” he said Saturday.

Survivors include her four children: Susan Swickard, John Shemwell, Amy Erickson and Max Shemwell. They are scattered around the country but were gathering in Vancouver on Saturday to remember their mother and make her final arrangements. The family said she will be cremated and her ashes will be scattered at sea, per her wishes.