Six months after a C-Tran bus hit and killed a pedestrian in downtown Vancouver, prosecutors said Tuesday they will not charge its driver.
Senior Deputy Prosecutor Kasey Vu said that, after reviewing video surveillance, C-Tran reports, police reports and numerous other pieces of evidence relating to the Dec. 2 crash, “we did not feel we could meet the burden for the elements of the crime.”
Vu said it took months to reach a decision because it was a challenging case to analyze legally and also entailed follow-up police investigation.
“It wasn’t a clear-cut case,” Vu said. “There was discussion and research among some of our most experienced attorneys.”
C-Tran bus driver Al Purvis was not breaking any laws — not drinking or consuming drugs — and he wasn’t driving recklessly when he turned from Eighth Street onto southbound Washington Street, where his bus struck Margaret McCluskey in the crosswalk, Vu said in a letter to the Vancouver Police Department’s traffic unit. McCluskey was dragged under the left rear wheels of the bus in the 11:30 a.m. crash and was killed instantly.
The issue was whether Purvis should have seen McCluskey, 88, in time to prevent the accident. That wasn’t an easy call, Vu said in the letter, but evidence suggested the Vancouver woman could have been killed because she was in the driver’s blind spot.
Video from a camera mounted on the front windshield indicated that Purvis should have seen McCluskey walking in the crosswalk on a green light, Vu said in his letter. However, when police investigators conducted a re-enactment of the crash, video showed his view may have been blocked by two pillars at the front corner of the bus’s windshield.
Prosecutors had reviewed the case as a potential vehicular homicide. To prove that charge, prosecutors had to either show Purvis was intoxicated, driving recklessly or driving with a disregard for the safety of others.
There was no evidence of any of those allegations, Vu said in his letter.
“There is no evidence that Purvis was driving the bus in a rash or heedless manner, indifferent to the consequences,” the prosecutor wrote. “Unlike in other cases, where the driver was driving at an excessive speed, running a stop sign or red light, sending text messages, talking on the cellphone, etc., Purvis appeared to be driving the bus in a normal fashion.”
Further, Vu wrote, video recordings show Purvis was complying with C-Tran training techniques to avoid blind spots and blockages. Bus drivers are taught to swivel their heads front to back and side to side to spot their blind spots.
“The video recordings from the bus camera system show that Purvis was moving his head and looking side to side both before and during making the left-hand turn at Washington Street,” Vu wrote.
The prosecutor’s letter also noted that Purvis is a 17-year veteran C-Tran driver and that his work performance record showed he was an above average bus driver.
Purvis remains on paid administrative leave. C-Tran was set to be notified of the prosecutor’s decision very late Tuesday afternoon. Once the prosecutor’s office’s review has concluded, C-Tran can move forward with its investigation, which could take up to two weeks, said office spokesman Scott Patterson.
“The facts in this case indicate that this was a tragic and unfortunate accident, and that no criminal charges should be filed,” Vu wrote in his letter. “The death of Margaret McCluskey resulted in a great loss of a vibrant member of our community. However, our approach has been, and always will be, to evaluate each case based on the totality of facts and circumstances.”
McCluskey was a former journalist and Peace Corps volunteer who lived in Esther Short Commons. The attorney for her family issued a statement to The Columbian on Tuesday.
“While some may disagree with the decision of the prosecutor’s office not to pursue a vehicular homicide charge against the bus driver, we respect the decision and thank the prosecutor’s office for informing us of its decision,” attorney David Higbee of Michigan.
Higbee said the family plans to seek a wrongful death claim, but he did not give a timeline or details about such a claim.
The December crash was one of two C-Tran fatalities in Vancouver in the past six months. On April 28, an 11-year-old bicyclist, Benjamin Fulwiler, collided with a C-Tran bus on Main Street as the bus made a left turn onto 27th. Fulwiler suffered critical injuries and later died at a hospital. The bus driver involved in the collision, Deborah Knox, remains on paid administrative leave.
Prior to the December crash, however, the last C-Tran-related fatality in Clark County was in 2002, when a C-Tran bus was involved in a multivehicle pileup on Andresen Road that killed a Brush Prairie man.
Laura McVicker: www.twitter.com/col_courts; www.facebook.com/reportermcvicker; firstname.lastname@example.org; 360-735-4516.