Police report on C-Tran bus collision that killed pedestrian

Details emerge about driver in woman's death

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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photoMargaret McCluskey, 88, was killed instantly when a C-Tran bus hit her Dec. 2, 2011. McCluskey, a retired journalist and resident of downtown's Esther Short Commons, had been crossing Washington Street in the crosswalk on the south side of Eighth Street.
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C-Tran accident police reports

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The driver of a C-Tran bus that struck and killed a pedestrian last December had been involved in five previous accidents during his 17-year career, according to police investigation reports released Friday.

Al Purvis, though generally regarded as an above-average driver, received counseling or retraining following four minor accidents between 2001 and 2009, according to the report. He received 10 days' suspension for a 1995 accident that caused more than $14,000 in damage -- but no injuries -- and was suspended for three days the following year for making an illegal U-turn and deviating from his route.

After the December accident, C-Tran officials told Vancouver Police Department investigators that Purvis is a good driver who is committed to safety and would "actively report issues to safety personnel as they arose," according to the police investigation.

On Dec. 2, Purvis was driving the No. 4 route through downtown Vancouver when his bus struck and killed Margaret McCluskey, 88. Purvis was making a left

turn from Eighth Street onto Washington Street, heading south, when the bus hit McCluskey as she crossed Washington.

McCluskey died instantly. Purvis was not charged with a crime. He remains on paid leave until C-Tran wraps up its own investigation of the incident, said Scott Patterson, the agency's public affairs director. Once it concludes, C-Tran will decide whether to discipline Purvis. The agency had been waiting on the police reports to finish its own process, Patterson said, which now may happen in the next couple weeks.

"That's pretty much the last piece of information," he said.

Police reports describe Purvis as visibly shaken, even in shock, immediately after the December accident. Vancouver Police Cpl. Mark Hochhalter, among those who initially responded, found Purvis standing near the stopped bus. Hochhalter asked for Purvis' driver's license. "However his hands were trembling to such an extent that it took him an extra couple of seconds to comply," according to the corporal's written summary.

Purvis later spoke with officer Ron Rose in a private office near the accident scene. He told Rose that he swung the vehicle out wide toward the right lane of Washington Street -- as No. 4 buses often do -- anticipating the next stop a block away. Part way through the turn, Purvis said, some passengers yelled that he had hit someone. One woman yelled, "Oh my God! Oh my God!"

Purvis immediately stopped the bus, got out and saw McCluskey under the bus. He called his supervisor, then told McCluskey help was on the way. There was no response.

Purvis was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the accident, according to police. He told Rose he had gotten a "good, solid" six hours of sleep the night before the accident.

Several witnesses reported seeing McCluskey -- who was walking east toward the front of the bus -- before she was struck. A reenactment of the accident later suggested that Purvis' view may have been blocked by a pillar supporting the bus' front windshield.

Ashes spread at sea

Though police have finished their investigation of McCluskey's death, the grieving process for her family continues. Relatives traveled to the Northwest from across the country this month to spread her ashes at sea, said Amy Erickson, McCluskey's daughter who lives in New York state.

Erickson said last week she and others appreciated the initial response from the Vancouver community following her mother's death. But she feels frustrated that there were no charges filed, she said, and over the lack of acknowledgement to the family from C-Tran.

Before the last several months, Erickson said, "I didn't have a good concept of how important it is for a survivor to feel a sense of recognition."

McCluskey, a retired journalist and Peace Corps volunteer who lived in the Esther Short Commons building downtown, was deeply involved in the local community. Erickson said her family often heard stories of the people her mother met, the places around her, the bookstores she browsed, down to the smallest detail.

"She loved the Northwest," Erickson said, later adding: "She was someone who was just interested in everything."

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro; eric.florip@columbian.com.