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Death, Maiming, Money, and Muni 

The enormous costs -- human and financial -- of bad drivers and lax discipline at the San Francisco Municipal Railway

Wednesday, Aug 6 2003

Page 4 of 7

"It's a chain reaction," observes Einstein. "Things add up and make the driver's job tough."

Overall, he says, it just takes a lot of energy, intelligence, stamina, and attention to detail to be a safe transit driver.

On Dec. 15, 1996, Emily Landsverk walked out of her Cole Valley apartment to buy burritos for herself and her boyfriend. A recent UC Berkeley graduate in anthropology, Landsverk, 26, was working as a legal secretary for the American Civil Liberties Union. At the intersection of Haight and Cole, she crossed the street.

Welton N.M. Beattie, a 12-year Muni veteran, was driving the No. 37 bus west on Haight Street. In a deposition, Beattie said that he felt a "bump." Then another. Something was in the way of the bus, he did not know what. He accelerated; bump again. According to a half-dozen witnesses, Beattie rolled the 15-ton bus on top of the obstruction and stopped. Angry, frightened passers-by pounded on the bus door, shouting, "Get off of her! Get off of her!" At that point, according to his deposition, Beattie looked in his side mirror, saw a body under his tire, and pulled forward.

Weeping from the pain of a crushed pelvis, Landsverk feebly tried to raise herself on her forearms. Beattie called the Muni dispatcher. A witness to the accident, Lorri Puente, who was on the sidewalk, testified in a deposition that the driver "was screaming about being disruptive of his schedule. And I kept a couple of people from going at him physically because they said, you know, 'What's wrong with you? You just ran over an individual twice, dragged her. Don't you have any compassion?'

"And he was a very angry individual. He says -- he said, you know, 'This is going -- I'm going to be late for my schedule.'"

As paramedics rushed Landsverk to San Francisco General Hospital, where she fought for her life, Beattie told a police officer, "I was making a left turn. All of a sudden this lady ran in front of the bus." Based on Beattie's statement, the cop wrote into his report that Landsverk had crossed the street outside the crosswalk -- in other words, that she was a jaywalker. The police did not interview eyewitnesses to the initial strike. But Puente testified that a passer-by told her Landsverk had been inside the crosswalk.

Doctors treated Landsverk for three broken ribs; a bruised lung; a punctured diaphragm; a lacerated liver; wounded intestines; a busted spleen; nerve damage in her legs and urethral sphincter muscle; a tear in her vagina, which had been separated from her abdominal wall; a shattered, free-floating pelvis; a degloved (skinned) left arm; deep abrasions on her legs; a large chunk of flesh torn out of her groin; and a broken pinkie finger.

In a deposition given a few months later to Landsverk's attorney, Mary Alexander, Beattie changed the story he told the police, saying he never saw Landsverk until he heard "a human cry." Parsing his words, he seemed to try to disassociate himself from a bus that had acted badly on its own volition.

Beattie: It appeared that the bus had some kind of contact with the pedestrian ....

Alexander: [Did] the bus run over the person?

Beattie: I determined that there was an injured person.

Alexander: When did you decide that your bus had run over this person?

Beattie: I never came to that decision or conclusion.

Alexander: As you sit here today, have you come to the conclusion that your bus ran over the person?

Beattie: I came to the conclusion that it was involved in an incident.

Beattie decided that he could not have seen Landsverk run in front of the bus because "[t]hat entire front end is a blind spot." He said that drivers often discussed among themselves how the blind spots made it impossible to see pedestrians. "We [also] informed the training department that there are blind spots all over."

Alexander: You understand that as a bus driver you are supposed to yield to pedestrians?

Beattie: Yes.

Alexander: Pedestrians have the right of way; is that correct?

Beattie: At some times.

Alexander: What times do pedestrians not have the right of way?

Beattie: Jaywalking ....

Alexander: Are you supposed to yield to a pedestrian if they're jaywalking?

Beattie: You can. It depends on the situation ....

Alexander: Your goal is not to hit a pedestrian even if they're jaywalking; is that correct?

Beattie: Correct.

Alexander then read out loud the instructions from the Muni Operators Training Guidebook requiring bus drivers to make sure pedestrians see the bus and to yield to pedestrians, even when they "make foolish moves." The guidebook notes that buses have blind spots on the right and left sides; to avoid creaming pedestrians in the blind spots, operators are to drive very slowly when turning or moving through a crowded area, and to maintain a four-foot "space cushion" of clearance on the curb side.

Landsverk, who has recovered from her injuries and recently graduated from law school, says she is not angry with Beattie. "But," she says with emotion, "he should have seen me. It could have been prevented."

Muni saw the matter differently, listing the Landsverk accident as "unavoidable," meaning that Beattie was not at fault. But the driver could have been an unsympathetic figure in court, Alexander says, not least because of his apparent lack of concern about the results of his actions. In his deposition nearly a year after the accident, Beattie testified that he did not know whether Landsverk was alive or dead.

About The Author

Peter Byrne


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