SFPD: Driver Found At Fault In Union Square Tour Bus Crash

Photo: Brian Kendzior/Twitter
By Allie Pape - Published on March 23, 2016.

Despite speculation that mechanical failure may have played a role in November's Union Square tour bus crash, the SFPD announced at a press conference today that a four-month investigation found no preexisting issues with the vehicle's brakes, steering and throttle. The driver is being considered at fault, and was issued a citation for speeding. The crash injured 19 people, several of them critically. 

The crash occurred at Post and Stockton streets around 3pm on November 13th, with the tour bus hitting several parked vehicles and a cyclist before colliding into the construction site of the forthcoming Apple Store. Kenneth Malvar, 52, was driving the double-decker tour bus, operated by City Sightseeing, and was injured in the crash. 

Malvar's attorney had previously argued that the accident occurred when Malvar heard a boom beneath the bus. The gas pedal was stuck to the floor, causing the bus to accelerate beyond his control, and Malvar was only able to slow it down by crashing into other vehicles. "It was a runaway bus and he did everything humanly possible to avoid hitting people," the attorney, Robert Cartwright, told KTVU

Officer Kevin Edison of the SFPD's Traffic Collision Investigation Unit stated this morning that while the driver may have believed he was hitting the brake pedal, the investigation had concluded that he had instead hit the throttle. After striking a cyclist on Post Street, the bus picked up speed, ultimately going up to 45 mph.

An SFPD press release described the order of events:

It was determined that the collision scene began on the 500 block of Post Street near Taylor, where the bus made contact with a bicyclist. The bus then impacted orange construction barricades, followed by another vehicle. The dislodged barricades struck one vehicle.

The bus continued down Post through Mason and Powell Streets, where it struck a Municipal Railway sign on a concrete “island” on the 300 block of Post. It then made contact with several vehicles, construction scaffolding on a building, and a utility pole supporting overhead Muni power wires. The bus came to rest on the 300 block of Post Street.

Malvar's earlier assertion that the bus had malfunctioned led to a surprise audit of City Sightseeing buses by the California Highway Patrol, which revealed widespread violations in the company's fleet. Inoperable emergency exits, faulty brake lamps, a steering issue, and a potentially serious fuel leak were among the issues. The CHP also found that three drivers had expired licenses, and many were driving for excessively long hours—including Malvar, whom records showed as logging 15-hour driving days.

The SFPD's investigating officer did not present information on Malvar's driving logs, but said that fatigue had been ruled out as a factor in the incident. 

Though Malvar's citation comes with a fine, Commander Ann Mannix of the SFPD Traffic Bureau noted that civil litigation is likely to follow. 

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