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Union Blames I-279 Bus Crash on Mechanical Failure

The Port Authority of Allegheny County thinks the driver is at fault, but the union thinks the Sept. 22 bus crash on Interstate 279 that injured a driver may have been a result of mechanical failure.

Steve Palonis, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85, said that after reviewing video footage and talking to drivers Juliann Maier and Thomas Frauens, there is no indication of reckless driving.

Maier was travelling southbound on I-279 alongside Frauens when her bus crashed through a guardrail just past the McKnight Road interchange and rolled down an embankment onto Evergreen Road.

“One bus was passing the other and the lady in the right hand lane said that her bus started to shake violently, and she lost control of the bus,” Palonis said.

Port Authority officials said this week that video cameras on Frauens’ bus show the drivers playfully gesturing to one another. Palonis said this is nothing out of the ordinary for bus drivers.

“They do that all the time when they pass each other up, if one bus is slower than the other bus,” Palonis said. “But I didn’t see [anything] as far as radical driving.”

Frauens didn’t report any mechanical problems, according to Palonis. Palonis said there is every indication that the buses bumped into each other.

“When I viewed the video, [Frauens’ bus] is actually moving over to allow [Maier’s bus] to have more room,” Palonis said. “He actually went off the side of the road to the medium practically to get out of the way as she was coming over.”

The Port Authority is investigating the incident. Palonis said the union is running mechanical tests to see what went wrong.  

PAT spokesman Jim Ritchie said the drivers could be fired if investigators confirm that their "joking" and "reckless" behavior caused the crash. Both drivers remained suspended with pay pending a Port Authority police investigation, which could result in criminal charges, Ritchie said.

Ritchie has said the video shows the male driver left after the other bus crashed and didn't report it.