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TriMet Deaths, One Year Later

Vancouver victim's father seeks changes after tragedy

By , Columbian Health Reporter
Published: April 25, 2011, 12:00am
5 Photos
Erik Gittings, on left, and Dan Marciano hug Danielle Sale's father David Sale at the first anniversary memorial of Danielle's death.
Erik Gittings, on left, and Dan Marciano hug Danielle Sale's father David Sale at the first anniversary memorial of Danielle's death. Photo Gallery

David Sale’s daughter will not become another statistic.

His 22-year-old daughter, Danielle, and her friend, 26-year-old Jenee Hammel, were struck and killed by a 17-ton TriMet bus last year.

The young women’s deaths have been called the worst tragedy in TriMet history. But Sale wants his loss to be the biggest learning experience in TriMet history.

And he’s made it his mission to ensure that happens.

“They’ve turned this into a life journey for me,” the Vancouver resident said.

Danielle Sale of Vancouver and Hammel, who lived in Gresham, Ore., were killed just before midnight on April 24, 2010. Sale, Hammel and three other pedestrians were struck by a bus as they walked in the crosswalk on Northwest Broadway at Glisan Street in downtown Portland. They had a “walk” signal and the right of way.

The other pedestrians were Hammel’s brother and sister-in-law, Ryan and Jamie Hammel of Portland, and Danielle Sale’s boyfriend, Robert Erik Gittings.

The bus driver, Sandi Day, was cleared of criminal wrongdoing. But in February, a judge found her guilty of six traffic charges, saying she made an illegal left turn after sweeping across multiple lanes.

While TriMet officials continue to tell David Sale safety is the transit company’s No. 1 priority, the Vancouver father said the lack of action suggests otherwise.

So Sale will continue to monitor TriMet drivers and attend board of directors meetings to campaign for changes — not only for his daughter, but for other families who have lost loved ones in similar tragedies. He’s also creating an advocacy group, The Transit Victims Alliance.

“They don’t want to go through the heartache. They don’t want to go through the agony,” Sale said of other families. “And neither do I. But the last thing I want to see is another family go through this.”

Remembering Danielle

T-shirts with an image of Danielle Sale and Hammel leaning together and blowing kisses to the camera are stacked on the couch in the living room of Sale’s Vancouver home. Framed photos of his smiling daughter hang on the wall.

Sale points to the family’s motto, printed across the living room wall: “Laughter sparkles like a splash of water in the sunlight.”

While the last year has been full of heartache and tears, Sale said the family is ready to laugh.

So on Saturday night, family and friends of the two women gathered at Harvey’s Comedy Club in Portland — the same comedy club Danielle and the others had visited the night of the crash.

They wore the T-shirts as they laughed, sang, prayed and shared memories of the women.

“She was a really good student,” Sale said in an interview at his home last Thursday. “Danielle was out to help everybody.”

When she was just 6 years old, Danielle held a penny drive to raise money for homeless people. She always participated in the annual multiple sclerosis fundraiser walks. And she volunteered for numerous organizations, trying to help whomever she could, however she could, Sale said.

Even in her death, she helped people.

Danielle was an advocate of organ donation. When she died, her eyes, bones and tissues were donated to eight people, one of whom was a former Olympic athlete with a bone disease.

Danielle graduated from Fort Vancouver High School in 2007. She was enrolled in the medical magnet program and earned her certified nursing assistant credentials before graduating. She took medical classes at Clark College before moving to Idaho to attend Boise State University.

She returned to Vancouver and resumed courses at Clark College as she pursued a career in the medical field.

Advocating change

Even though it’s been one year since the fatal crash, Sale said it feels like weeks rather than months.

“It’s been hell,” he said. “It’s been terrible.”

“The year has been full of TriMet meetings, sad holidays and nursing (Danielle’s boyfriend) Erik back to somewhat of a normalcy,” Sale said.

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In the year since Danielle was killed, Sale has attended every TriMet board of directors meeting.

He uses his cell phone to film TriMet drivers making sweeping lane changes and illegal turns and shows the videos to the board members.

He questions the board about the organization’s training for drivers. He asks members what TriMet is doing to try to prevent another tragedy.

Sale concedes TriMet is effective in its outreach and education outside of the organization. But, he said, that wouldn’t have saved his daughter.

“What are you doing about the clowns crossing four lanes of traffic?” Sale said. “That’s how my kid got killed. Not because she didn’t read her sticker book.”

Sale said he wants to see drivers go through a regular recertification process. The practice has recently begun, but Sale said he’s heard from union members who call the recertification process “a joke.”

TriMet also needs to keep tabs on its drivers, Sale said. Last year, a TriMet driver was cited for running a red light. A license check revealed the driver’s commercial license had been suspended for two years. Sale asks why TriMet didn’t know its driver was behind the wheel illegally.

In addition, Sale wants to see TriMet use the “secret shopper” method to monitor drivers.

Portland Police Bureau training videos released two years ago show officers being confronted by rude and aggressive TriMet drivers.

Sale shakes his head as he watches one video where a bus driver nearly runs an officer off the road after sweeping across three lanes of traffic. When the officer approaches the bus, the driver argues with the officer over the legality of his lane change and curses at the officer.

“That’s the stuff that needs to change,” Sale said.

On its website, TriMet talks about the fatal accident and details what it calls a subsequent “top-to-bottom safety review,” including hiring an outside safety consultant to review all its policies. Also, General Manager Neil McFarlane created the Safety & Service Excellence Task Force in July 2010 to further the work of the consultant’s comprehensive safety review.

The task force held a series of public meetings and wrapped up its work in October with a final report containing 19 recommendations. TriMet is currently developing action plans to implement these recommendations, according to its website.

Sale remains unconvinced.

“Safety’s not their No. 1 concern,” Sale said. “It’s the budget. That’s what I see.”

“Every time I get kicked in the face with this stuff, it’s like they’re trying to make a statistic out of her life, and that’s not going to happen,” he said. “The changes will be made.”

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546 or marissa.harshman@columbian.com.

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