(Special to The Columbian)
In the aftermath of the death of 11-year-old Benjamin Fulwiler, Kelli Dominguez is hopping mad that C-Tran changed its route to send buses from Main Street east onto 27th Street.
“That bus route needs to go back to the way it was,” she said Sunday morning from her home just one block from where Benjamin struck a bus and was killed on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s dangerous. It’s right by a Dairy Queen. It needs to go back. That’s my opinion. My strong opinion,” she said from her yard at 2615 Washington St. “It’s loaded with children, everyday, at that Dairy Queen.”
Benjamin was a sixth-grader at Pacific Middle School in the Evergreen school district. Grief counselors will be there today, a school official said.
The boy was living at 310 E. 27th St., just a few houses from where he was killed.
He was riding his bike south on Main Street and the C-Tran bus was also southbound and making a left turn onto 27th when the accident happened. He had serious injuries and died later Saturday at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland.
The C-Tran driver was Deborah Knox, 59, said C-Tran spokesman Scott Patterson. He said she has been a C-Tran driver for about five years and has a clean driving record except for a minor collision with another C-Tran bus in the C-Tran lot. She is on paid administrative leave, Patterson said.
Patterson said changes were made to routes 4, 32 and 37 on Jan. 15.
Previously, the 37 bus had picked up passengers on Main and 25th, just north of a Starbucks store.
After what Patterson said were months of study, the 37 route was changed to turn left from Main onto 27th, right onto Broadway, with the bus stop at 25th and
Broadway, just east of a Walgreens store.
“There were multiple factors” for changing the routes, Patterson said Sunday night. “We had some concerns about pedestrians’ safety for a stop at Main and 25th. They were a lot of people crossing the street in midblock.”
He said C-Tran received a letter from the Arnada Neighborhood Association “asking us about potential changes.”
He said the proposed changes were taken to the city of Vancouver.
“We had a number of very good reasons for making the changes that we did, and we feel that they were the right ones,” Patterson said.
However, he said C-Tran has an ongoing investigation and, “We will take a close look at all the facts around this tragic accident. … We’re going to look at every option. The priority here is on safety, that’s passenger safety, driver safety and pedestrian safety.”
He also said C-Tran’s investigation shows “the bicyclist hit the bus at midpoint.”
The Vancouver Police Traffic Unit is conducting its investigation and is asking any possible witnesses who have not come forward to contact Officer Jeff Olson at 360-487-7478.
Memorial for Benjamin
As Sunday wore on, a memorial to Benjamin near the accident site grew larger.
Lena Chard, 39, and her daughter LeAnna Chard, 15, brought a toy angel bear.
“A lot of kids have been getting in trouble with their bikes,” LeAnna said.
“We walk this area and it’s a real complicated area,” Lena said. She said it seems you could miss a C-Tran bus turning left.
She also said she knows bus driver Knox. “She’s very kind.” Lena said.
Elan Baxter, 18, a student at Vancouver School of Arts and Academics, and Courtney Moline, 16, a Hudson’s Bay High School student, brought three teddy bears and a bouquet. “I just can’t believe it,” Baxter said.
Mandie Martin, who lives near 36th Street and Lincoln Avenue, came with her three boys.
“We brought a plant so she (the mother) could plant it,” she said. She said she has an 11-year-old boy “so it really hit close to home.”
Across from Benjamin’s house, homeowner Mike Kleiner said the family had only been in the house a few months.
“He certainly didn’t look like a reckless kid in any way,” Kleiner said of Benjamin.
He said he could understand why the bus stop was changed.
“That was always chaotic by Starbucks. There was always a lot of people running across the street to catch the bus.”
He also noted the south side of 27th near Main has its problems.
“There’s no sidewalk against the surplus place, so there’s no place for people to walk,” Kleiner said.