February 25, 2013

Bus driver costs taxpayers $100,000 because he was eating a Jamaican beef patty while driving and managed to slam on the brakes and send passengers spilling onto the floor

When Ursila Wilson boarded the bus, she was in the hands of a driver whose short history with Broward County Transit was marked with complaints and accidents.
Driver Herton Reid was breaking another rule that day, eating a Jamaican beef patty at the wheel, maneuvering the 15-ton bus with one hand, surveillance video from inside the bus and county records show.
Another passenger was complaining as Wilson boarded, chastising Reid to stop "driving crazy,'' Wilson recalled.
It was just a few blocks later that he hit the brakes, and passengers standing in the crowded bus lurched forward. Wilson lost her grip on the overhead bar and plunged, banging her head on the fare box, falling to the floor in pain.
Reid glanced down and kept eating, the video shows.
The spill cost taxpayers $100,000, when Broward County commissioners voted last week to settle Wilson's lawsuit. Her medical bills exceeded $220,000, the county said. She'd had surgery to fuse disks in her upper spine, said her attorney, Joseph North.
Reid's files at the county track the six-year career of the 60-year-old, a former truck driver who'd had "some high school'' in Jamaica, he wrote on his application.
His first accident was two months after he was hired, when he was still on probation.
"I was just amazed when I saw his employment file,'' North said, "that he remained a bus driver as long as he did.''
His case shows a forgiving Broward County transit department, repeatedly warning him that he could be disciplined or fired if things got worse, but meting out little discipline. His troubles were steady:
When he was eventually retrained in response to problems, two county transit instructors rode his bus to observe him. He broke five rules and a passenger was injured while they watched, records show.
He wasn't disciplined.
"Operator Reid stated that he would do his best to correct the problems,'' a memo about the incident says.
Reid left his county job voluntarily in August.
Despite the settlement, Wilson is still upset about how he treated her.
"He was nasty,'' she said.
As she lay on the floor, she said, he continued driving and eating the patty. Finally, she said, he asked her coarsely if she wanted him to call an ambulance.
"He never once said, 'Ma'am, are you OK?' '' she said.
The settlement comes as the division's disciplinary system for bus drivers is under scrutiny, and the county auditor, Evan Lukic, prepares a report he expects to release in mid-March.
Lukic said his office was reviewing the history of another county bus driver who drew a lawsuit. That driver, Charles Butler, remained behind the wheel despite hitting 10 cars, losing his driver's license five times, showing up late and sparking a lawsuit settled by the county for $73,005, theSun Sentinel reported in January.
Yet another driver, Larry Moore, remained behind the wheel until his January retirement, despite being held responsible for nine accidents and serving a total of 31 days of suspension for 19 disciplinary cases, the Sun Sentinel reported in January.
Similarly, Reid, 60, had built a track record of trouble before the incident that cost taxpayers $100,000, having four accidents he was held responsible for and racking up numerous complaints.
Reid's woes began in 2006, shortly after his hiring in October.
His first accident was in December that year, when he was making a turn onto Atlantic Boulevard and "made contact with a truck,'' causing "minor damage.''
He was warned that another accident during probation, "depending on the severity,'' could lead to discipline or termination, records in his personnel file say.
Five months after that, he broke the mirror off an SUV with his bus.
In January 2008, he had another mishap: hitting a barricade.
Because of his issues, the transit department intervened, requiring him to be retrained. That didn't go well, according to the transit instructors' memos.
Supervisors pointed out to him his history of incidents.
"They showed a pattern of poor defensive driving i.e., speeding, hard breaking and contact with a fixed object and other vehicles,'' his instructors wrote in a memo titled "Retraining of Bus Operator Herton Reid.''
The instructors rode on his bus, observing. While they watched, he broke five rules, including speeding and not allowing enough distance behind a vehicle in front of him. And at four railroad crossings, he failed to stop.
On the same ride, with instructors watching, a passenger was injured "while exiting the bus while the bus was still in motion,'' they reported afterwards.
"Operator Reid stated that he would do his best to correct the problems,'' the memo says in conclusion.
The year 2010 was a rough one for him, and for his passengers, his files indicate.
He had an accident in February 2010. He said his foot slipped off the brake at a stoplight, and he hit a truck in front of him. The bus's front-mounted bike rack made contact, denting the bike that was on it — a 15-speed bike owned by a man in his 60s, the police report says.
In April, it was time for a management sit-down.
Twelve passengers had complained already that year, about "rudeness, moving the bus when people are going to their seats, passing people at stops, and reckless driving,'' a memo in his file says.
He was counseled on "slowing his driving style down so as not to drive unsafe or jeopardize his passengers' safety.'' They also talked to him about his attitude toward passengers.
They offered the Employee Assistance Program, but he said he didn't need it.
Four months later, management called him in again. There'd been more complaints.
He received a mild caution.
It was more than a year later, in December 2011, when Wilson boarded his bus.
She filed suit, faced with $222,961.35 in medical bills and stung by his lack of compassion.
He received a censure for "eating while driving.'
"I know the name well,'' said his union president, Bill Howard of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1267.
"If you've got a problem with people, you're in the wrong business. A lot of these guys get the 'captain of my ship' syndrome. I say, 'Yeah, but it's Broward County's bus.' I tell them straighten out. This is what the county expects of you.''
But Reid didn't listen when he tried to help, Howard said.
"In any large organization we have some problem children,'' he said.
The job isn't a breeze, said Howard, a driver himself. And despite that, the vast majority of drivers are pleasant to the public, he said.
"We get no breaks out here whatsoever,'' he said. "The scheduling is terrible. People spit on us and treat us like crap.''
Indeed, Reid was punched in the face by a passenger in 2007, his records show.
Transit Director Tim Garling said Reid's "work record is disappointing,'' but he never reached the firing threshhold under the union contract.
"Our past management processes are being addressed to ensure that we use every available resource to deal with employee issues,'' Garling said. "Our focus now is to address these issues with our current employees.''
Garling said the division, which is trying to increase bus ridership, is taking steps to improve initial driver training and "oversight of employees during the formative stages of their career.''
Discipline also will be addressed, he said.
"We are also strengthening the use of available progressive disciplinary steps, and providing retraining to every employee after their second accident,'' Garling wrote to the Sun Sentinel. "In addition, we are also developing an annual safety refresher training course that will be given to all operators.''
Efforts to reach Reid for comment were unsuccessful.
In August, he decided to leave his job, sending a thankful resignation letter to his supervisor.
"Dear sir, it has been a great experience. ... I am thankful for the experience.''

No comments:

Post a Comment