It was bad enough when 62-year-old Broward County transit bus driver Charles Raymond Smith caused a crash two years ago that left a woman seriously injured, resulting in an out-of-court settlement of $75,000 recently approved by county commissioners.
But The Sun-Sentinel has since uncovered that in the 21 years he has been employed as a driver for the agency, he’s racked up 16 crashes, 25 written warnings and more than 30 days total of unpaid suspension. The very first in his series of disciplinary woes started when he was just one week on the job, and it’s continued through last year.
Worse is that, despite numerous calls by county commissioners for years to wrangle greater control over discipline of unsafe public transportation drivers, union protection means it’s likely Smith will remain on the job until he becomes eligible for retirement until 2020. And while his record was one of the worst discovered by the Sun-Sentinel in its analysis, he’s far from the only driver to have this type of history.
Broward injury lawyers know that this kind of protection for drivers who have repeatedly proven unsafe puts millions of South Florida public transit users at grave risk of serious injury and even death.
This is not even the first time the Sun-Sentinel has taken on this issue. An expose published in 2013 highlighted this problem too. That analysis noted that Broward County Transit, despite being the second-largest system in the state, hadn’t fired a single employee for poor driving in five years, despite the following incidents:
- A new employee with three crashes during his first six months of probation. He was eventually fired in 2008, but his bosses later rescinded that termination and put him back on the road. He went on to crash six more times.
- One driver was disciplined 19 times – including 9 times for preventable crashes – and was eligible for termination twice under the agency’s rules, but that action was never taken.
- A driver who was eligible for termination after five crashes in two years. However, a doctor visit indicated he needed glasses, so his bosses let him stay. He later had two more preventable accidents.
Reporters stated that Broward is far more lax in its disciplinary and enforcement policies than even Palm Beach or Miami-Dade counties. In Broward, a driver could run a handful of red lights, receive dozens of customers complaints and cause up to four bus accidents in a two-year period before he or she even risks getting fired. Even then, discipline hasn’t been consistent. Crashes as a mark for discipline aren’t counted after two years have passed. Drivers are only eligible for termination if they have five or more preventable crashes within a two-year span.
The bus system has 345 fixed route buses (not including 30 more just added this year) and ferries some 121,235 passengers every single day. That’s more than 37 million trips a year.
In Smith’s case, he racked up 14 accidents – four of those preventable – during a five-year period ending in 2013. Other incidents involving him include:
- The time in 2004 when he rolled his bus into a truck carrying metal pipes because “the sun was in my eyes”;
- That time, six days later, when his “eyes felt tired” and he rolled his bus into another vehicle;
- That time in 2012 when he hit the gas at a green light, only to strike a car in front of him and send four people to the hospital;
- That time in 2013 when he changed lanes on I-95 in congested traffic and slammed his 15-ton bus into a passenger car, causing a four-car chain reaction pileup that seriously injured at least one woman;
- That time in 2014 when a railroad arm broke on his bus because he crossed the track as a train approached.
Transit officials insist they have improved oversight and discipline since 2013, and new driver training programs have been implemented. But commissioners are still working to negotiate with the union to set policies that would require accident-prone drivers be fired much sooner.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
16 accidents, 30 days of suspension, no problem, Nov. 20, 2015, By Brittany Wallman, Sun-Sentinel
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